Most people would agree that America's Veterans with disabilities -- those who have served and sacrificed for our freedoms -- clearly deserve a fair shot at what is at the heart of the American dream, a good job with a good company.
Yet the unemployment statistic for Veterans with severe disabilities is a startling 85 percent.
How can we work together to change this picture and to turn this grim statistic around? How can we bring the collective power of the public and private sectors together to improve the quality of paralyzed Veterans' lives while also improving business' bottom line?
At Paralyzed Veterans of America (www.pva.org), we decided to meet this challenge head on -- helping those who wore the uniform and were seriously injured get good jobs and careers.
We invested in a vocational rehabilitation program, designed to empower Veterans with disabilities with the services and tools they need to reintegrate into the job market -- while matching them with businesses and organizations with career positions.
The program -- with offices in Richmond, VA; Minneapolis, MN; San Antonio, TX; Long Beach, CA, Boston, MA and Augusta, GA -- was established through an innovative public-private partnership between Paralyzed Veterans of America, businesses and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
We have helped hundreds of Veterans with disabilities through this program and have developed working relationships with more than 300 employers.
There are three elements that work to make our jobs and careers program a success: connecting with Veterans, connecting with businesses and changing perceptions.
The program receives clients in a number of ways, from visiting newly injured patients to word of mouth. But the most important thing is that the program proactively reaches out to the Veterans, often meeting them early in the rehabilitation process, engaging patients, their families and outpatients alike and publicizing the program at events and in the media. With our offices located in VA spinal cord injury (SCI) centers, we maximize vocational rehabilitation exposure to the SCI Veterans and service providers.
Our voc rehab counselors network with Chambers of Commerce, community organizations (such as Rotary), job fairs and Veterans employment coordinators. They attend meetings and reach out to local and national employers to develop a network of business leaders who want to hire America's Veterans.
For Veterans with disabilities, career opportunities can change their expectations of what comes next for them. With encouragement and help, they feel empowered to take the rights steps to finding a good job and fulfilling career.
For businesses, Veterans make great employees. They are disciplined, focused, reliable, hard working, team players and much more. In addition to working with Veterans, our voc rehab team spend time educating employers on working with people with disabilities. We complete a work assessment of the position to ensure we provide a good fit for the employer. We also provide information on tax and other incentives that vary by state for hiring people with disabilities. Plus, the program is recognized as an approved "employer network" (EN) by the Social Security Administration.
The truth is, hiring more Veterans with disabilities is a win, win for our country. Those who served secure good careers; employers get great employees; and, in turn, our economy becomes stronger.
It's a strategy that helps empower America's best with everything they need to live full, self-sufficient and productive lives. It's a strategy that's good for business and great for our nation.
Employers: America needs you to hire more paralyzed and disabled Veterans!
Bill Lawson of Woodward, Oklahoma was elected National President of Paralyzed Veterans of America at its 64th Annual Convention in August 2010. He is a staunch advocate for veterans and people with disabilities.
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