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Labor Department Web Site Encourages Hiring of Wounded Veterans

August 20, 2008
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Wounds Mike Bradley suffered in Iraq have become signatures of the conflict. He took early medical retirement in November after an improvised explosive device caused a traumatic brain injury.

Finding a job with a Washington national security consulting firm has contributed substantially to his successful return to civilian life.

The company, Halfaker & Associates, has taken simple steps to help Bradley cope with lingering effects of his injuries, like providing him time to “relax … take [a] break and regroup” when headaches hit or he’s having trouble concentrating.

“My employer understands me and the issues I need to deal with on a daily basis,” Bradley said at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday, August 20.

Bradley participated in the launch of a Web site sponsored by the Department of Labor, America’s Heroes at Work (www.americasheroesatwork.gov), that encourages employers to hire returning veterans who have brain injuries and/or  post-traumatic stress disorder.

The agency collaborates with the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services and Education as well as the Social Security Administration on the site, which was set up at a cost of $300,000 to $500,000.

It provides fact sheets, training tools and a hot line to educate companies about ways to accommodate employees who suffer from the injuries. Problems they experience may include headaches, vertigo, anxiety, sleep disorders, short-term memory deficiencies and difficulty making decisions.

Neil Romano, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, said most steps employers can take are simple, such as providing a quiet room or replacing flickering lights. 

Labor and defense officials at the Web site rollout stressed that about 80 percent of the ailments are caused by concussions and are temporary.

They touted the benefits of hiring veterans, who they said possess initiative, leadership and the ability to work in teams.

“There’s no one like our warriors who know how to improvise, adapt and overcome,” said Gen. Loree Sutton, director of the Defense Centers for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said service members must have a high school degree or the equivalent and 60 percent must score above average on an aptitude test.

“The larger message we’re sending to employers is, veterans are a key and interesting resource for you,” Chu said in an interview after the press conference. “We are Lake Wobegone. We are above average.”

Consulting firm Deloitte & Touche is a believer. Greg Arend, a Deloitte partner, said that hiring top talent is crucial for the firm to survive in a competitive market.

“The best of the best reside, many of them, within the veterans community and those with injuries,” said Arend, who is co-founder of the Ability First Business Resource Group.

“This initiative is an awesome initiative,” Arend said. “It removes barriers.”

If more companies are to join Deloitte in hiring injured veterans, the movement will have to begin in HR departments. That’s why the Labor Department tapped the Society for Human Resource Management as a partner.

SHRM will provide on its own Web site a link to the veterans Web site and will highlight it at conferences and in other outreach to its 245,000 members. For two years, the organization has had an alliance with Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

“America’s HR professionals stand ready to welcome our returning service members,” said Shirley Davis, SHRM director of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Each year, about 250,000 military personnel leave the service, Chu said. About 150,000 come off of active duty.  An additional 100,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves go back to civilian life.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—and U.S. military activity in Afghanistan and Iraq—about 10,000 military personnel have sustained traumatic brain injuries, Chu said.

The Web site promoting injured veterans was created to educate employers, not to address a particular hiring problem.

“We’re not noticing outright discrimination against veterans coming back,” said Charles Ciccolella, assistant secretary of labor for veterans’ employment and training.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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