Employers Urged To Tap Skills of Disabled Veterans

By Kathy Gurchiek Dec 6, 2007

Employers concerned about the graying of the U.S. workforce and a lack of workforce readiness among younger hires should consider recruiting from a sometimes overlooked group of highly skilled workers—disabled American veterans—according to a recent webinar hosted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

With more than 200,000 veterans predicted to annually flood the civilian job market in coming years, this group represents a rich source of talent employers can tap, said webinar speaker Debra Ruh, citing U.S. Department of Labor statistics. There are an estimated 6 million veterans with disabilities in the United States.

More than $14 billion in public funds are invested annually in training and educating service members, said Ruh, president and founder of TecAccess, a leading provider of disability employment services, including veteran retraining and placement.

One Vet’s Story

Arthur L. Wilkes, a disabled veteran who worked 15 years as a manager and 20 years performing various HR roles, wants employers to remove the blinders he says they wear when it comes to veterans.

Although today he works full time in HR for a manufacturing defense contractor, he is frustrated with employer attitudes he experienced after retiring from the Army eight years ago.

“The only thing employers understand is that veterans wear a green suit and carry a weapon,” the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) member said in a phone interview with SHRM Online.

However, while deployed during Desert Storm, Wilkes handled managerial and HR duties, such as making sure people received training, and he processed personnel transactions to ensure that people got paid and that their dependents continued to receive benefits.

TecAccess’ Ruh noted that many veterans don’t know how to translate their military background into non-military business skills on their resume.

“We find that veterans have a lot to offer employers but the resumes don’t always reflect the experience,” she said.

The various military branches do provide resume-writing assistance for their personnel. Deana Bess, retired from the U.S. Navy, received one-on-one resume training and had access to SMART (Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript). SMART writes the resumes of military personnel in non-military terms.

There also is the federal Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which is designed to improve employment rates for new veterans and to reduce the cost of unemployment, the SHRM member pointed out.

“The people who manage [TAP] are interested in what employers need and would be happy to talk with them about adding information to the program,” Bess told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

Another resource is the Fleet and Family Support Centers that work with Navy personnel to help them in their transition to civilian life and employment, she added

However, Wilkes said he did everything he could before retiring “to develop my skills and make a smooth transition.”

That included spending 18 months in the federally funded Assistive Technology Access Partnership program aimed at tutoring disabled vets on interview and resume-writing skills and how to perform job searches. He then followed up for six months with TAP.

After leaving military service, Wilkes was between jobs for 90 days—a period that to him seemed long after searching for a job for 18 months.

He couldn’t get past the resume screening, he said.

“The way it’s been identified to me is that they can’t validate what I did in the military. This even came from the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the [Federal Drug Administration],” he said.

Wilkes finally landed a job that paid only $6 per hour. Prior to his current full-time job, he was making $24,000 annually.

“I now have two degrees and [am] preparing to obtain … SPHR certification in order to obtain an HR position worthy of my skills, but no one can get past the green uniform to understand I have been performing personnel administration, HR management, human capital management—or whatever we will next label our profession—all my life,” the Milwaukee resident observed in an e-mail.

How Employers Can Reach Out

Fortune 1000 companies are realizing that veterans who have disabilities can fill the predicted labor shortage. Such companies have started including people with disabilities in their diversity strategies, Ruh said.

“Private employers can reach out to local and national resources,” she said, such as U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs programs, Hire Vets First and the Employer Assistance and Recruiting Network, to develop partnerships and relationships aimed at hiring veterans.

A new national job board, AccessibleEmployment.org, which was launched Dec. 4, 2007, is designed to provide employers with a central place to post employment positions and search resumes of qualified candidates who have a disability.

In March 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor and The President’s National Hire Veterans Committee expanded a national Hire Vets First campaign to raise awareness among employers about the value veterans bring to the workforce, SHRM Online reported at the time.

And beginning with the 2007 tax year, Illinois established an employer tax credit of up to $600 for every veteran hired in that state. Employers may claim the tax credit on returns filed in 2008. In 2006, Illinois expanded a law to protect veterans as well as those on active duty from employment discrimination.

The Disabled Veterans (DVET) program was launched in 2007 in Virginia, but there are plans to expand it nationwide. It serves as a conduit between employers and disabled veterans, and partners with the Department of Veteran Services, Department of Rehabilitative Services and the Virginia Employment Commission.

The program uses assistive technology, such as screen readers and voice-activated controls, to provide support and customized training to veterans with disabilities.

Under a program developed for it by TecAccess, DVET trains disabled veterans in a variety of information technology skills and for work in project management and call centers.

DVET also trains managers on how to integrate veterans with disabilities into the workforce. Managers receive training on disability sensitivity and other topics specific to veterans, such as recognizing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Ruh.

The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), established in 1990, provides wounded service members with assistive technology such as alternative keyboards, voice recognition software, magnification software and listening devices, CAP’s Wounded Service Members Team Leader, Megan DuLaney, said during the webinar.

CAP is a part of, and funded by, the U.S. Department of Defense. It has partnerships with 65 federal agencies, including Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the things it can do is provide training and assistive technology and accommodations free to veterans serving internships or working full time within the federal government.

However, while CAP can serve as a resource, “it is up to the employer to provide the reasonable accommodation,” DuLaney noted.

“Many private employers are surprised to find that the cost [of accommodation] … is not that high,” she said. The average cost of workplace accommodations in 2006 was $600 or less, according to JAN.

Observed Wilkes, “It is very simple to obtain an understanding of what a veteran can do if you know where to look and quit thinking they can only shoot and run.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.


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