Companies Finding Success Hiring Disabled Veterans


By Maria Williams September 23, 2010

The benefit of hiring disabled vets far outstrips any hassles associated with doing so, according to those who have done it. Employers—even small ones—easily come out ahead, by partnering with government agencies and nonprofits and leveraging abundant free resources and tax credits.

Extensive outreach is one key to success.

CACI International Inc. works around the world with military transitioning offices and organizations such as the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, Cause USA, the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project, said Bob Boehm, executive vice president and chief human resources officer. Through classroom work and coaching, CACI helps transitioning vets build resumes, interviewing skills and other job search techniques. “Regardless of which company the veterans ultimately join, CACI sees this as not only an obligation to our military but it makes good business sense,” Boehm said.

CACI has hired disabled vets as logistics analysts, administrative assistants, graphic designers, intelligence analysts, background investigators and special operations instructors.

In 2007, CACI CEO and President Paul Cofoni made it a priority to hire disabled veterans, and the company’s employees have “rallied behind this cause” ever since, hiring more than 350 disabled veterans since then, said Boehm. It helps that many CACI employees and hiring managers are veterans, that CACI is a military-friendly company with accessible facilities and that its clientele and workforce are sensitive to disabled veterans’ needs.

Waste Management (WM) is another company that is committed to hiring more disabled veterans. Over the past several years, the company has hired nearly two dozen disabled veterans per year.

“Our outreach includes attending more than 30 job fairs a year, two to three of which are specifically marketed as fairs for the disabled by the Veterans Administration (VA),” said Wes Reel, military and veteran recruiter. WM markets its jobs on federal labor sites, and the majority of its 40 recruiters have relationships with local military bases through the transition centers.

In 2010, WM led two webinars, in partnership with Hire Heroes USA that targeted disabled vets. In addition, the company assisted Marines from the wounded warrior regiment at 29 Palms Marine Corps Base during a three-day career-transition training class and participated in two virtual job fairs led by MiliCruit in partnership with Hire Heroes USA and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Tax Credits and Free Resources

Just 15 to 20 percent of the disabled veterans served by Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) are in small businesses, according to Bo Rollins, veterans’ benefits department director of planning, policy and procedures. In part, this modest figure reflects the reluctance of small businesses to hire disabled vets, he said. Most of PVA-served vets find work at nonprofits, federal or state governments or at large corporations.

Still, there is no reason why small businesses in the U.S. shouldn’t hire disabled vets with work opportunity tax credits (WOTC) available of up to $4,800 per service-disabled veteran-hire in 2010. Given that the average accommodation costs $600 or less, according to research conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), and many valuable support services are offered at no cost, some employers actually make money in the process of hiring disabled veterans, experts say.

A wealth of resources exist to help employers match jobs with people with disabilities, identify the qualifications of particular job candidates and, as necessary and appropriate, educate other employees about the nature of particular disabilities. The following organizations offer many free services—free even to employers who collect WOTCs:

One-Stop Career Centers is a web site provided by the DOL linking visitors to state employment offices. It has searchable listings of more than 2,000 local veteran employment representatives and disabled veteran outreach program specialists who connect employers with veterans in transition.

PVA represents veterans with spinal cord injuries or dysfunctions. PVA will send certified rehabilitation counselors (even fly them, if necessary) to job sites, at no cost to employers, and conduct whatever follow-up is needed.

The Wounded Warrior Project(WWP) represents veterans with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. The web site allows employers to post jobs and review resumes from disabled veterans across the nation. For particular in-demand fields, such as information technology, PVA and the WWP can be more useful than local employment offices in facilitating searches beyond local regions, experts say.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) gives examples of appropriate accommodations for a wide range of situations and assists employers with finding resources and funding options to acquire accommodations. They conduct phone assessments and visit worksites, as needed.

Hire Heroes USA matches the skills and interests of returning veterans with the needs of participating companies nationwide. A personal approach matches the career interests, qualifications and transferable skills of veterans with the needs of employers.

O*NET Online is a DOL site with searchable databases of military job codes and civilian equivalents to help translate resumes from “militarese” to civilian-speak. More than 80 percent of military jobs have a direct civilian equivalent, according to Lisa Rosser, author of The value of a Veteran: The Guide for Human Resource Professionals to Regarding, Recruiting and Retaining Military Veterans and a blogger on hiring veterans at Hiring managers who can translate military experience from resumes and “get good at it” will have an advantage, she told SHRM Online.

Keep an Open Mind

John Molino, WWP’s executive vice president for economic empowerment, noted that many employers who imagine hiring a disabled vet think of a college-educated vet whose only disability is a missing limb. They reshape their vision upon learning that the majority of vets WWP serves are high school graduates with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Rosser has one piece of advice when it comes to vets’ education levels: Consider experience, she said—don’t overemphasize formal education. Give some thought to work experience equivalents for education. “The average 26-year-old service member has more years of managing people than the average 30-something civilian,” Rosser said in Credit Union Business. She adds that service members have more responsibility over people and equipment than most companies assign to their mid-level managers.

Experts encourage HR managers to use the same open-minded approach to examine their personal and their workplaces’ possible prejudices about disabilities. According to Rosser, the public needs to be re-educated about PTSD. Many employers worry that a vet with PTSD will “go crazy—go postal,” she said. But Rosser said that, by far, the most common reaction of a PTSD sufferer to an intolerably stressful situation is simply to leave. Rollins points out that PTSD is common in the civilian population, but while civilians are often unaware they have it, most vets with PTSD have the advantage of knowing their condition and have the resources for dealing with it.

Likewise, TBI tends to scare employers because they don’t understand it. Molino explains that much of TBI is temporary and the most common accommodations made for TBI—when any are necessary—are for light sensitivity (removing a few fluorescent light bulbs, for example). In some vets with TBI, “a little slowness, a little speech impediment” might be apparent, and the pace of work might be a little slower than average, Molino said. “But people should realize there’s a healing that goes on,” he said, and that vets often recover completely from TBI.

Physically disabled vets encounter another set of prejudices. Rollins suggests that people are often biased, sometimes unconsciously, to believe that physical ability relates to mental ability. People tend to speak condescendingly to those in wheelchairs, he said, and disabled vets in wheelchairs who show up at job interviews are sometimes met with looks of shock and fear. He suggests that hiring managers prepare themselves mentally for the possibility that the next interviewee who comes through their door could have a disability.

A disabled person “must go through much more than you or I would to get ready for an interview,” Rollins said. Most disabled vets who apply for work have a strong drive to succeed and to “prove the world wrong,” and their strong motivation can energize other employees, he said. Employees who are outperformed by a peer with a disability often are spurred to greater achievement.

Molino observes that disabled vets retain “all the qualities that made them attractive to recruitment officers in the first place” including intelligence, great work ethic and reliability—and have gained leadership and many other valuable skills in their military training.

Maria Williams is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.

Related Resources:

Partnerships Are Essential to Recruit More Veterans, SHRM Online Legal Issues, Sept. 10, 2010

Employing Military Personnel and Recruiting Veterans—Attitudes and Practices, SHRM Poll, June 24, 2010

Hiring Veterans Is More than Just a Job, SHRM Online Employee Relations Discipline, April 29, 2009

Employers, Colleges Help Veterans Get Job Training, SHRM Online Organizational & Employee Development Discipline, Dec. 1, 2009

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

Employers Urged to Recruit, Assist Veterans with Disabilities, SHRM Online Employee Relations Discipline, April 6, 2009

Employers Urged to Tap Skills of Disabled Veterans, HR News, Dec. 6, 2007

Quick Link: SHRM’s Disability Employment Resource Page

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