terry_moakleyIn a recent telephone conversation with a former co-worker, she reminded me of a remark I made to her 15 or more years ago. I said that “I learned early on that life was about much more than walking.” Truth is that the opportunity to make this comment existed because I was working. The thought of not working after my spinal cord injury was never on my radar.

Yet, it seems that disabled vets returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are having much more difficulty finding jobs than disabled vets from previous periods of conflict. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 25% of recent veterans have service-related disabling conditions. This is nearly twice the percentage, 13%, of all veterans with service-connected disabilities.

It seems also that the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in injuries to veterans that are not well understood by the general public. For instance, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder appear to be more common among Iraq and Afghanistan vets. I don’t know if this is true or false, but I do know that no citizens are more deserving of landing a decent job than those men and women who have served our nation honorably in our military.

On November 16, 2011, VetsFirst, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, had the opportunity to testify before the EEOC about overcoming barriers to the employment of veterans with disabilities. Partly in response to that hearing, the EEOC developed a new online publication, Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Veterans.

The above-referenced guide focuses on the employment discrimination provisions for disabled veterans found in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants because of their military obligations, and it also protects the reemployment rights of individuals who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military. The USERRA applies to all veterans, not just those with service-connected disabilities, and to all employers regardless of size.

Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination in employment for individuals who have a disability, have a history of a disability, or are “regarded as” having a disability. This means that it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a veteran because he or she has PTSD, was previously diagnosed as having PTSD, or because the employer assumes that the veteran has PTSD. In addition, under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, this law’s employment discrimination protections now apply to disabling conditions covering the operation of major bodily functions, such as functions of the brain and the neurological system.

And let’s not forget the Vietnam Era Veteran’s Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), which requires that businesses with a federal contract or subcontract of $25,000 or more take affirmative action to employ qualified disabled veterans; or, the Veterans Preference Act, which provides veterans with and without disabilities a preference for available federal government jobs.

Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Veterans also includes explanations about other ADA employment rights, discusses “reasonable accommodation” situations and concludes with an excellent resources section. This online pamphlet might help you to land the job that you are looking for.

Terry Moakley
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee