Veterans can face many challenges when returning to the workforce. Service-related disabilities, lack of experience in the civilian world, limited community connections due to multiple deployments, and other unique barriers contribute to these challenges. According to a March 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 4.7 million Veterans—26 percent of all Veterans—have a service-connected disability.
Increasingly, employers are recognizing the transferrable skills and qualities that Veterans bring to the civilian workforce. Veterans are goal oriented, make excellent leaders, and possess experience and knowledge that make them a good fit for a variety of civilian jobs. In fact, many companies have programs that specifically recruit former members of the military.
With a nod to Military Appreciation Month this year, and in acknowledgment of the commitment made by military personnel past and present, the LEAD Center is undertaking several initiatives focused on Veterans’ employment.
Guided Group Discovery, Veterans Edition—Facilitator Guide
Guided Group Discovery (GGD) is a strategy that assembles small groups of up to 10 job seekers committed to an employment search. One or more trained facilitators guide these job seekers through a process of self-exploration. This experience provides an opportunity for peer support that can help the job seekers, especially those who may be struggling to find employment or may otherwise lose motivation to stick with a job search over time. The process matches the strengths and skills of the job seekers with the unmet needs of employers. This avoids the competitive nature of more traditional employment strategies by proactively proposing employment to employers, using participants’ social networks to help identify job leads.
The LEAD Center designed its Guided Group Discovery, Veterans Edition—Facilitator Guide to train people to facilitate GGD sessions with Veterans, people with disabilities, and/or others who are experiencing challenges to employment. The LEAD Center has supported pilot projects implementing GGD in American Job Centers (also known as One-Stop Centers) in collaboration with a variety of partners, including Veterans’ service providers, vocational rehabilitation, programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, behavioral health providers, Centers for Independent Living, homeless services providers, and others. Because partners facilitate the groups collaboratively, Veterans and others with challenges to employment receive support from multiple systems and agencies that can leverage each other’s resources.
Guided Group Discovery: Paving a Road to Employment
The LEAD Center presented the webinar, “Guided Group Discovery: Paving a Road to Employment,” to grantees of the National Veterans Technical Assistance Center Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program. The webinar introduced the rationale for using GGD; explored GGD strategies that can benefit Veterans during their job searches; identified ways to guide Veterans in determining how their military training, discipline, and mission focus can benefit employers; and provided resources to support Veterans transitioning into civilian employment.
Veteran Readiness and Employment Apprenticeship Trainings
LEAD Center staff provided a three-part training for vocational rehabilitation counselors and employment coordinators who work with Veterans who have service-connected disabilities and who are enrolled in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program. The training covered: (1) an overview of Registered Apprenticeship; (2) how to connect partners to regional apprenticeship ecosystems; and (3) how to integrate apprenticeship into pre-existing VR&E training and counseling services. Five VR&E offices piloted the training. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of Veterans with disabilities in registered apprenticeship programs. Training recordings and videos will be available soon!
This initiative is a collaborative effort of the LEAD Center; VR&E; and DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), Employment and Training Administration’s Office of Apprenticeship, and Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).
For more information about Registered Apprenticeship, visit the Office of Apprenticeship’s portal at apprenticeship.gov and the new Veteran-specific webpages at apprenticeship.gov/service-members-and-veterans.
NASWA Veterans Conference—Discovering Your Purpose After Transitioning: Tools for Finding the Right Career Match Post-Discharge
Veterans want to ensure that any career after military life is a good fit that provides them with a sense of purpose. LEAD Center staff led the interactive session, “Discovering Your Purpose After Transitioning: Tools for Finding the Right Career Match Post-Discharge,” at the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) Veterans Conference. The session provided participants with: (1) tools specifically developed to assist in the “discovery” process, which is especially useful for war-wounded Veterans seeking employment or apprenticeships; and (2) tools to help Veterans envision not only how their military training, discipline, and mission focus can benefit employers, but also how to make that connection.
LEAD Center staff will return to the NASWA Veterans Conference in summer 2021 with a panel discussion on how ODEP and VETS are working to increase the number of Veterans with service-connected disabilities who enter registered apprenticeship.
Thirty years ago, George H.W. Bush declared these motivating words as he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, which provided the path to civil rights protections for people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, government services, and telecommunications. The struggle to bring the ADA into reality was years long, and its passage laid the groundwork for more inclusive American workplaces and communities.
Indeed, much progress has been made since the ADA’s signing to support the employment and, in turn, economic advancement of people with disabilities in American society. To highlight just a few:
- In the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is discriminatory to segregate people with disabilities in employment and community living settings when integrated, community-based settings are available.
- In 2001, Congress established the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), creating a permanent entity to focus on disability within the context of federal labor policy.
- The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program was created to support employers who have invested in diversifying their workforce.
- Two updates to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act were implemented to ensure greater accessibility in the ever-expanding virtual world, as well as the physical.
- In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) clarified “disability” as an inclusive term, making it easier for a person seeking protection under the law to establish eligibility.
- The following year, DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began publishing data on the employment status of people with disabilities, ensuring baseline data is available to measure the progress and impact of disability- and inclusivity-focused efforts.
- In 2013, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs updated Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act—which compels contractors to take proactive steps to recruit, hire, promote, and retain people with disabilities—strengthening the affirmative action provisions and aligning regulations to the ADAAA.
- Twice, Congress has updated the nation’s workforce development system, most recently in 2014 with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which made sweeping changes. Notably, WIOA infused disability employment into a general workforce development law—thereby recognizing that people with disabilities should have access to the same programs and services as everyone else. Through nondiscrimination and equal opportunity requirements, WIOA also affirmed that all people should be able to access and benefit from these services.
- In recognition that economic advancement is an essential part of the ADA, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 created tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families.
This list of strides is by no means exhaustive, but it clearly illustrates a positive trajectory. It points toward a more inclusive society, one in which competitive, integrated employment is the norm and where everyone can contribute their talents and skills toward a rewarding career.
That said, work remains. The ADA calls on us to ensure that everyone is afforded a clear path to economic self-sufficiency and financial stability through employment. Yet, people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, have difficulty finding work that offers a living wage, and more likely to experience poverty and homelessness.
To address these gaps, ODEP’s LEAD Center promotes equal opportunity and access within the greater workforce system governed by WIOA. For example,
- Our Inclusive Career Pathways Roadmap enables workforce professionals to access resources that will help people with disabilities achieve employment and economic self-sufficiency.
- Our DRIVE website allows users to conduct state comparisons and analyses to help guide policy development.
- Our interactive data visualization tool helps states and local areas investigate the status of their WIOA disability-related reporting, (and we are creating accompanying tools to help American Job Centers (AJCs) more effectively connect with and serve people with disabilities).
Also under development is:
- A robust financial toolkit that will offer crucial resources for anyone navigating a complex economic landscape, whether planning for, getting, keeping, advancing, or recovering from the loss of a job.
- Modular training for case managers so that they can connect veterans to inclusive apprenticeship opportunities.
- Statewide equal opportunity and programmatic accessibility training and technical assistance for workforce personnel in Virginia.
The work that we are conducting today is made possible by the groundwork laid in the last century, and the efforts undertaken in the last 30 years. The ADA was an early milestone on a continuing path—one that ends with economic security and full inclusion in our workplaces and community spaces. Doing this work together will enable all of us the opportunity to contribute to our collective success and advancement as a nation.
As we close out another National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we, at the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) are heartened to see the many and creative ways individuals and organizations helped bring this year’s theme, “America’s Workforce: Empowering All” to life.
We were also pleased to contribute to this year’s celebration with the launch of CDE’s latest public service announcement (PSA), “Working Works.” Through the voices of four individuals, this PSA shares the many ways work empowers all, whether we have disabilities or not. It also addresses the importance of ensuring that people can remain in the workforce following injury or illness and the role employers, health care professionals and others play in helping them do so.
Among the PSA’s participants is Cal Ripken, Jr., also known as baseball’s “all-time Iron Man” because he holds the record for most consecutive Major League Baseball games played, at 2,632. Cal appears alongside his longtime athletic trainer, Richie Bancells, who supported Cal’s efforts to “stay in the game” after injuries.
We also meet Ish Escobar, a human resources professional with a defense contractor, and U.S. Army veteran with service-connected disabilities, who wanted to “keep working” upon separation from the military. Participant Bruce Goebel is a third-generation cabinetmaker who, after a machinery accident severed his right hand, worked with his family, physicians and staff so he “could come back strong” when ready. Last, but not least, we have Chanelle Houston, a research analyst who returned to work following a spinal cord injury with strong support from colleagues and her health care team. Chanelle appears alongside occupational therapist, Christine Crawford, and with her company’s President and CEO, Kevin Beverly.
These individuals’ experiences clearly illustrate the value of retaining the talents of people following injury or illness. Not everyone is fortunate to have the support they did, however. For a variety of complex reasons, each year millions of Americans leave the workforce after injury or illness, to their detriment and that of their families, their employers and our nation.
At its most basic level, work is a matter of livelihood. It’s how we all earn a living and provide for our families. But, for many, it’s about more than that. It’s also about contributing our skills and experience, following a passion or being part of something larger than ourselves. It empowers all, on multiple levels—every day of every month.
About the Campaign for Disability Employment
The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) is a collaborative effort among several disability and business organizations committed to changing attitudes about disability and employment. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. “Working Works” is the CDE’s fourth in a series of PSAs exploring different aspects of disability employment. To access these PSAs and learn more about the CDE, visit www.WhatCanYouDoCampaign.org.