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On the Hill - Getting To Work

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2017

Observed for more than 70 years, NDEAM draws attention to the extraordinary resources that Americans with disabilities offer to the nation’s workforce.

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Getting To Work

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Observed for more than 70 years, NDEAM draws attention to the extraordinary resources that Americans with disabilities offer to the nation’s workforce.

“Americans of all abilities must have access to good, safe jobs,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said in August while announcing this year’s theme — Inclusion Drives Innovation. “Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation.”

Get The Stats

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 4.6 million veterans have service-connected disabilities. Those with a rating of less than 30% were much more likely to be in the workforce than those with a rating of 60% or higher (54.7% and 29.9%). These statistics point to the ongoing employment challenges faced by many veterans with disabilities and those of civilians with disabilities as well.

Still, there’s a growing range of vocational resources now available to veterans with disabilities, as well as in the increasing number of public and private sector organizations eager to add the talents of these veterans to the workforce.

At a July training conference for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program employment coordinators, participants heard from government officials and private sector partners about programs and policies aimed at enhancing employment prospects for veterans with disabilities. In his opening remarks, VA Deputy Undersecretary for Economic Opportunity Curtis Coy highlighted the low overall unemployment rate among veterans, which is 3.4%, but contrasted that to the rate for veterans with disabilities. 

Educating The Masses

A panel on the hiring challenges facing veterans with disabilities featured Coy, along with National Disability Rights Network’s (NDRN) Executive Director Curt Decker, Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy’s (ODEP) Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Sheehy and Paving Access for Veterans Employment (PAVE) counselor James Arndt.

Panelists had much to say about the common and persistent challenges that veterans with disabilities face. This included employers being unfamiliar with many of the programs and policies available to help hire and retain veterans and other candidates with disabilities. Misconceptions and attitudinal barriers were also mentioned as frequent hurdles to disability employment.

According to Coy, the best way to make the case for veterans with disabilities as desirable employees is to emphasize their training, stability, team orientation and ability to overcome obstacles.

Coy wants to make that process easier for veterans by spreading the word about the variety of hiring authorities available to bring on veterans with disabilities and facilitating connections between employers and prospective veteran employees. 

Decker noted the importance of veterans knowing their rights as people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and how to negotiate reasonable accommodations with an employer.

He also described a memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 between VR&E and NDRN to use that organization’s nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy Systems and Client Assistance Programs to improve outreach to veterans with disabilities and increase awareness of and access to services that will help these veterans transition into productive civilian life. 

Sheehy outlined several resources for employers available through her agency, such as the Job Accommodations Network, which has provided one-on-one technical assistance to over 300,000 employers since its inception.

Another ODEP resource, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN), offers research, best practices and technical assistance on effective employer engagement to businesses of all sizes, federal contractors and federal and state governments. In fiscal year 2016, EARN assisted over 42,000 employers through webinars, in-person training and through the network’s website. Arndt detailed Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) hands-on approach through the PAVE program and emphasized intervening with a newly injured veteran early in the rehabilitation process.

He also spoke of PVA’s long-term commitment to serving not only veterans with disabilities and their caregivers but transitioning active-duty service members as well. PAVE’s seven regional offices, which are staffed by professional vocational rehabilitation counselors, work with 1,200 business partners around the country to serve clients. In 2016, PAVE averaged 350 successful placements with an 83% retention rate.

There are a variety of ways that people with disabilities, organizations, employers and individual Americans can observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month. One of the best ways is to join the Campaign for Disability Employment at whatcanyoudocampaign.org.

For more information on PVA’s Operation PAVE, visit pva.org/PAVE.

Susan Prokop is PVA’s senior associate advocacy director.

 

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On the Hill - Getting To Work

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