Operation PAVE

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2015

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which benefits every paralyzed veteran who wants to work

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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which benefits every paralyzed veteran who wants to work.

With roots going back to 1945, this campaign began when the idea of a paralyzed veteran going back to work was almost laughable. But those veterans envisioned a time when Americans would see our veterans with disabilities transitioning to a peaceful society through vocational rehabilitation and employment. Today, this national campaign celebrates the spirit of those pioneering veterans.  
After a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, America again faces the challenge of transitioning veterans, many who are bearing the catastrophic scars of war. Unfortunately, the transition to a quality of life our veterans so vigorously defended remains full of societal landmines and booby traps.
Despite a myriad of corporations pledging to hire veterans with disabilities, we still see ready-to-work veterans idling in the margins of society. Socioeconomic status correlates to quality of life and is often measured as a combination of education, occupation and income. Unfortunately, the socioeconomic status of veterans with disabilities has been trending downward.

This country may celebrate the service and sacrifice of its veterans, but that has yet to ease reentry into civilian life for many of them. Despite superior skills and expertise gained in service, veterans still face unemployment rates higher than their civilian peers. So, why are so many of our brethren still struggling?  
Some people legitimately cite the unrealistic expectations of veterans who leave the military and overvalue themselves in the job market. A study found 33% of veterans don’t receive employment resources during their transition. But not all challenges are a result of bureaucratic shortfalls; some are societal.

In a 2012 report, the Center for a New American Security noted one of the main barriers to hiring veterans is managers struggling to understand how military skills translate to increasing the bottom line. The study also found more than 30% of managers called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) an obstacle to hiring a veteran.
It seems recent news stories on PTSD have led some employers to believe veterans who served in harm’s way have a little “John Rambo” in them, just waiting to reveal himself at the first sign of workplace stress.

Making things worse, another study with hiring managers found negative perceptions of people with disabilities’ productivity, social skills and psychological adjustment were justifications for not hiring them — a double tap if you’re a combat-disabled veteran.
I argue our country is better off by helping veterans with disabilities become self-sufficient, taxpaying citizens. To these veterans, employment is a big personal achievement that signifies their return to “normalcy.” To American society, it’s a statement that we value our veterans.

It’s good for veterans, and society benefits from efforts to reduce the deep gaps in socioeconomic status. This is an ideal that can be traced to the early 1900s when some funds from World War I bonds were designated to vocational programs for veterans with disabilities.
That ideal continues today through Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment). PAVE is Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) contribution to the tradition of re-purposing veterans’ abilities so they might assimilate into the American workforce.
Located in every Department of Veterans Affairs spinal-cord injury center, PAVE reaches out to all veterans who are seeking civilian employment, education or a new career search.
Services such as résumé assistance, interview preparation, vocational counseling or employer networking are free. These services are also available to dependents and caregivers.
Veterans still looking for comprehensive employment or who are “job curious,” should contact a PVA National Service Officer from the roster on page 48 or PAVE representative Shelly Stewart at 202-416-7795. 


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