VetsFirst believes that returning to the workforce provides one of the best ways for veterans with disabilities to reintegrate into their communities. Unfortunately, many veterans from the current conflicts face steep barriers to employment.
On November 16, VetsFirst, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities participated in a hearing before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding overcoming barriers to the employment of veterans with disabilities.
The most recent statistics available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that nearly 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reported having a disability related to their service. Of those veterans, 114,000 reported having a disability rated at 60 percent or greater. The workforce participation rate was 63.7 percent compared to 86.2 percent for veterans without a service-connected disability.
The barriers to employment for veterans with disabilities differ somewhat from the barriers that prevent other people with disabilities from gaining employment. For instance, veterans with service-connected benefits retain Department of Veteran Affairs’ disability compensation and health care benefits regardless of their employment status. Many other people with disabilities must choose between access to these types of benefits and employment. Unfortunately, delays in processing claims for VA disability compensation and receiving appropriate health care ensure that veterans are not entirely insulated from resource barriers that may hinder their efforts to return to employment.
Other barriers that impact all people with disabilities, including veterans, in gaining and maintaining meaningful employment are beliefs about the abilities of and accommodations needed by people with disabilities.
For the broader disability community, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) serves as the primary statutory source of protection against discrimination due to disability in employment. Disabled veterans may be less familiar with the protections offered by the ADA than they are with veteran specific laws and programs. For many veterans, it takes an encounter with the broader disability rights movement to make them understand their connection to the disability community.
Outreach to disabled veterans is critical to ensuring that they are aware of the employment protections of the ADA . The protections available to veterans and people with disabilities generally should work together to remove any barriers to employment for disabled veterans. The ADA is an important tool, along with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), in protecting veterans from employment discrimination due to their service.
Less than a week after participating in the EEOC hearing, VetsFirst had the opportunity to attend the White House signing ceremony of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. As part of this legislation, servicemembers will now be required to participate in the Transition Assistance Program, which is designed to ease the transition of servicemembers who are leaving active duty. VetsFirst believes that TAP should include information about the ADA and the right and protections of veterans with disabilities to help ease their transition to the workforce.
Barriers to employment for veterans with disabilities, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, must be overcome if they are to benefit from employment opportunities.