Good Will Toward Disabled Vets Mixed with Uncertainty over Accommodation

By Kathy Gurchiek Jan 13, 2011
More communication is needed to get the word out among employers about resources such as the Tip of the Arrow Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Program that can help organizations find qualified job applicants among those returning from military service, according to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Additionally, just 39 percent of HR professionals surveyed agree that it is easy for employers to find resources to help them accommodate veterans with disabilities.

SHRM collaborated with Cornell University, which commissioned the survey, to probe employers’ perceptions about recruiting veterans and others with disabilities. SHRM conducted the random online survey with 1,083 HR professionals from its membership in November 2010.

Nearly three-fourths of HR professionals agreed that, in general, veterans with disabilities perform on the job as well as any other employee. And slightly more than two-thirds think that workers with disabilities take the same amount of time to manage as any other employee.

The findings show that organizations see the positive benefits to hiring veterans with disabilities, SHRM lead researcher Evren Esen said.

“There are some challenges out there,” she noted. Employers might not have worked with persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and therefore don’t know what to expect. Fifty-three percent of survey respondents, for example, didn’t know whether workers with PTSD are more likely than others to commit acts of workplace violence.

Around two-thirds of respondents think that accommodating workers with PTSD or TBI requires more effort from the employer. Slightly more than half don’t know whether it’s costly to accommodate workers with PTSD or TBI, and 70 percent don’t know whether workers with TBI will need assistance for tasks that involve reading. However, 83 percent think that accommodating employees with disabilities is a worthwhile return on investment for their organizations.

Professor Hannah Rudstam, Ph.D., lead researcher at Cornell for this project, says employers are stymied because they “are just now starting to discover disability” as a component of their diversity programs and because the disabilities of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan pose special challenges.

Up to 50 percent of veterans returning from military duty have PTSD or TBI, and many have a combination of the two disabilities, according to Rudstam. A slight majority (58 percent) of HR professionals surveyed agreed that job applicants should tell potential employers about disabilities that impact the essential job functions they are expected to perform.

However, that’s easier said than done, according to Rudstam.

“These disabilities tend to be under-diagnosed, and what that means is that often the soldier will be returning to civilian life and civilian work as their awareness of this disability is just unfolding,” she told SHRM Online.

A challenge for employers is that unlike with disabilities that are visible, knowing how to accommodate workers with PTSD or TBI can leave employers at a loss.

“These signature disabilities can be very subtle and vary a lot between individuals. Employers really need to be very skillful in engaging the veteran worker” so as to make the appropriate accommodation, Rudstam said.

HR’s Role

She said the following are three significant issues for HR in recruiting, hiring and engaging veterans and other employees with disabilities:

  1. Does the organization have a trusting culture? Look at what happens to people in the organization when they come forward about having a disability.
  2. Does the organization have practices that relate to employee affinity groups and employee assistance programs, and do employees use these resources?
  3. Is the organization reaching mid-level managers in communicating its desire to be sensitive to, and accommodate, veterans with disabilities? HR should train them on working with employees with disabilities and veterans with PTSD and TBI.

“As an organization, you’re only as good as your midline supervisors,” said Rudstam. “They’re the ones who might receive an accommodation request,” coach employees and set an overall tone.

She advises training mid-level managers on how to work with employees with disabilities and veterans with PTSD and TBI. In addition, she recommends looking at the incentive culture that upper management sets regarding the three issues she outlined.

Employer Good Will

Employers see the value in hiring veterans, according to the SHRM/Cornell survey. It found that:

  • 73 percent indicated hiring veterans with disabilities will benefit their organization.
  • 71 percent agreed that hiring veterans with disabilities will improve the organization’s customer image.

“They do realize” Rudstam said of employers, “that it’s not only the right thing to do, but the right thing to do for their businesses and workplace.”

“Goodwill alone will not be enough,” though, Rudstam noted of the new findings. “Employers need to develop their capacity to engage veterans with disabilities across HR practices, recruiting, hiring, accommodating and coaching. We in the veterans community and disabilities community need to meet them halfway in helping them translate this goodwill into real solid practices to fully engage [veterans] in the workplace.”

Among the many resources available to employers, she said, are two toll-free phone numbers that offer free, confidential consulting on issues involving veterans with disabilitiesin the workplace”

  • 1-800-949-4232 (Disability & Business Technical Assistance Line).
  • 1-855-275-3276 or 1-855-ASK-EARN

A fact sheet that challenges myths about PTSD, she added, can be found at

More Education Needed

Educating employers on the benefits of hiring veterans with disabilities, making employers and veterans aware of job-related resources for the veteran population and building a relationship between HR and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were among recommendations from the HR professionals that SHRM surveyed.

Additionally, veterans need to stay current by updating their skills and demonstrating the ability to translate military experience into civilian work, HR professionals said in an open-ended question about their recommendations for improving the hiring of veterans with disabilities.

SHRM has made a big push in recent years to promote the hiring of veterans, including those with disabilities.

During its Annual Conference and Exposition in June 2010 in San Diego, SHRM offered a conference track on hiring veterans and hosted a networking reception where veterans and HR professionals could meet. It created aMilitary Employment Pageon its web site that includes resources and links to articles on this topic. In March 2009, SHRM hosted a webcast on “Recruiting and Assisting Combat-Exposed Veterans and People with Disabilities.”

Still, only half of survey respondents think that it’s easy to find resources to help employers recruit veterans with disabilities. Among veteran-related resources available to employers:

“It’s one of those topics,” Esen said, “that unless you’re looking to recruit this population, you wouldn’t necessarily know about these resources.”

Actions Organizations Are Taking

Including people with disabilities in their organization’s diversity plan/policy, including veterans in their diversity plan/policy, and hiring a veteran were the top three disabilities/veterans-related activities employers engaged in the 12 months prior to November 2010.

Almost half of HR professionals surveyed did not know if in 2011 they will use recruitment sources that target veterans or that target job seekers who have disabilities.

The survey results follow findings released at the SHRM 2010 Annual Conference in June. That survey, Employing Military Personnel and Recruiting Veterans: Attitudes and Practices looked at the benefits and challenges of hiring military veterans and how organizations could be assisted in recruiting and hiring them.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

Related Articles:

Companies Finding Success Hiring Disabled Veterans, SHRM Online Diversity Discipline, Sept. 23, 2010

Companies Help Veterans Adapt to Civilian Workplace, SHRM Online Employee Relations Discipline, Nov. 4, 2009

Large, Small Companies Adopt Military Veteran Hiring Strategies,SHRM Online Staffing Management Discipline, May 8, 2009

Related Resources:

Toolkit Launched to Attract, Hire Veterans, HR News, Nov. 1, 2010


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