I’ve been a service-connected disabled veteran for more than 45 years. I worked for VetsFirst and its predecessor organization for 36 of those years, and for four years prior to beginning my career and another four and a half years after I left the workforce, I have provided service on its Board of Directors.
Over the years, I’ve had a few different positions in this company, too, including accessible construction advocacy (or what we once called Barrier-free Design), communications and public affairs. However, my very first job here was Housing Director, which involved helping Vietnam-era spinal cord injured veterans find accessible apartments in the New York City area.
Also, a couple of years after my disability happened, I used Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits to earn a college degree. While I am acutely aware of how fortunate I was to have this assistance, the degree that I received was “used” every day I worked to help persuade people in government about the importance of creating or expanding programs for people with disabilities, including disabled veterans.
Today’s generation of veterans, disabled and non-disabled, probably know a great deal about the 1994-enacted Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA). It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants based on their military service, and it also protects the re-employment rights of civilian workers who leave their jobs to provide military service, such as members of the National Guard.
But if you incurred a disability during your military service, learn about the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, too. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in employment within the Executive branch of government; in employment by most federal contractors; and, in activities funded by federal subsidies or grants, including companies or organizations receiving federal funding.
Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act covers employment. It prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee or applicant in all aspects of employment because he or she has a disability, has a history of having a disability, or because the employer regards him or her as having a disability. Further, ADA Title 1 requires that employers provide employees and applicants with “reasonable accommodations” when it comes to applying for jobs, performing their jobs and enjoying equal benefits and privileges of employment as do employees without disabilities.
If you are a military veteran who is seeking employment, we cannot stress enough the importance of preparation. To do so, you may want to read Vets First online publication, Disabled Veterans Employment and Education: Gearing Up For Your Future, available at http://www.vetsfirst.org/veterans-employment.
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee