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PRESS RELEASE
11-16-11

Veterans with Disabilities Need Multi-Prong Approach for Employment, EEOC Told at Meeting

Commission Also Votes to Approve Age Discrimination Regulations  

WASHINGTON—Veterans with disabilities have unique needs in transitioning to and retaining civilian employment, and many are unaware that they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a panel of experts told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at a public meeting held today.  The panel included representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Labor (DOL),  Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Department of Defense (DOD) and private sector stakeholders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was one of a series the EEOC has held to examine barriers to employment.

“Today’s Commission meeting provided an important opportunity to learn effective ways to remove barriers to employment for veterans with disabilities,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.

“Veterans with disabilities often remain a distinct segment of the disability community, which challenges traditional avenues of outreach,” said Heather Ansley of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.  Moreover, veterans with disabilities “are not immune to the myths that surround the employment of people with disabilities.” 

Panelists pointed out the important role of employment in easing a veteran’s return to civilian life and recovery from injuries.  The VA and DOL have programs providing vocational rehabilitation services and job training for veterans with disabilities.  DOL also enforces a specific law prohibiting discrimination against former service members—the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act.  Additionally, the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) insures that federal contractors comply with laws giving veterans priority referrals to job openings and not discriminate on the basis of disability, Claudia Gordon, special assistant to OFCCP director Patricia Shiu told the Commission.

Ruth Fanning, Director of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services for the VA, stressed the need for early intervention in the transition from active duty to civilian life.  Encouraging injured veterans to plan and work toward civilian career goals “reduces the risk of homelessness, underemployment, or unsuitable employment after discharge from the military.” As George M. Parker, Director of Compliance and Investigations of the Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) of the DOL put it, “for wounded and injured veterans, employment can play a significant role in the road to recovery.”

Disabled veterans face special challenges, a number of panelists told the Commission, especially those returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan who may have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which many employers do not know how to accommodate.  The DOL’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides special resources for employers who need to learn more about how to accommodate veterans with PTSD and TBI, said  Anne Hirsh, JAN’s co-director. 

Ironically, the increased attention to veterans with conditions like TBI, PTSD and other mental health issues has made some employers hesitant to hire veterans at all, believing that all veterans are likely to have these conditions, Ansley told the Commission.  Stereotypical views of mental health issues, rooted in suspicion and fear, “often lead to widespread discrimination against people with conditions like PTSD.”

The EEOC works to combat these myths and stereotypes about veterans with disabilities, said EEOC Senior Attorney-Advisor Joyce Walker-Jones.  In 2008, the Commission issued two guides—one for veterans, the other for employers—explaining how the ADA and USERRA protect veterans with disabilities.  “We issued the guides because we wanted veterans to know what the ADA is, and employers to know that many veterans with disabilities are able to—and want to—work,” she stated.

Other panelists included Dinah Cohen, Director of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program of the Department of Defense, and Ray Decker, Assistant Director for Veterans Services at the U.S. Department of Personnel Management.

In an unrelated matter, the Commission voted 3—2 at the meeting to approve the “Final Regulation on Disparate Impact and Reasonable Factors Other than Age” under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  The regulation now goes to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.  Upon OMB approval, the text of the regulation will be made public in the Federal Register.

The EEOC enforces the federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.