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Step 4: Hire Qualified Veterans and Learn to Accommodate Wounded Warriors

Reflect on your onboarding strategies and consider adding a few new elements to be inclusive of Veterans, both with and without combat-related injuries.

Create a culturally sensitive new hire orientation plan

There are some important cultural distinctions to keep in mind when a member of the armed services transitions into the civilian workforce. First and most obvious is the fact that the military has a very clear hierarchical structure. In fact, rank is worn, literally, on your uniform (and understood by ALL). There is no misunderstanding as to who's in charge, who gives the orders and who follows them. Furthermore, career growth and promotion opportunities are clear and distinct. Lastly, the focus is always on accomplishing the mission at hand - taking credit for the work doesn't matter. This level of camaraderie and collaboration within and among all branches of the military is simply a way of life and an unspoken understanding.

The civilian workforce tends to be more ambiguous. The chain of command is not always obvious and can be somewhat confusing (even for those with no military experience). The work environment may be flexible some days and not on others, and there is not always a standard or equal path to move up the career ladder. This is not to say that military and civilian cultures do not and cannot mix. It is just a reminder to civilian employers that some extra time and attention may be warranted during an orientation period.

To ensure a smooth transition, consider the following (these suggestions would apply to any employee, and are basic good on-boarding strategies):

  1. Make it clear to the Veteran (new hire) how their work will fit into the company's plan for success. Veterans understand and respect how the work they do helps to accomplish the overall mission.
  2. Explain how the Veteran will be trained to handle new duties. Veterans are used to working with training plans that are realistic and measurable. In fact, on-the-job training is an important, and expected, part of every Service Member's career as he or she moves from post to post.
  3. Consider producing an organizational chart so the Veteran learns the hierarchy of the office environment. It's not too early to provide information on how to access professional development opportunities, describe the structure of performance evaluations, and discuss the path to career growth and promotions.
  4. Ensure there are frequent check-in periods during the first weeks, months (and beyond) of employment. Many Veterans who have transitioned to civilian careers will tell you they just don't have enough to do - and thus they become bored and disillusioned.
  5. Let the Veteran know the process for discussing and requesting job accommodations (as you should for any new employee), preferably in written form. Not all wounded warriors will require or request accommodations or assistive technology to perform their jobs. In fact, most will probably not choose to disclose a disability, especially if it is invisible (such as PTSD or TBI) for various reasons. By providing a written process for requesting assistance, you have not only offered helpful information, but have opened a door for discussion.

It is important to recognize that psychological health injuries (such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder) and brain injuries gained during one or multiple deployments are acquired injuries/disabilities. The Veteran may need some time on the job in order to figure out: (1) that he or she may need some support and (2) that exploring the possibility of a workplace accommodation might be the answer.

Understand your responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the responsibilities of employers with regard to reasonable accommodation can be found in a variety of sources. A few official sources include: the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, Cornell University's Employment & Disability Institute and the ADA's National Network of Disability Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs). Additionally, DBTACs can be contacted from anywhere in the country by a single 800 number, which routes the caller to their particular region for assistance: (800) 949-4232 V/TTY.

There are several sources for financial assistance and tax incentives to help employers (including small employers) make accommodations and comply with the requirements of the ADA.

Consider disclosure concerns

One of the biggest challenges faced by people (Veterans included) experiencing the impact of a non-apparent disability (or invisible injury) is whether or not to disclose this information to a prospective or current employer. Many people believe disclosing such information will have negative consequences, for instance, an employer not furthering an employment opportunity or, if the person is already employed, terminating him or her. Whether or not this is true, it is a common perception that often leads employees or potential employees to not share information. The issue is confusing to both employers and employees alike.

First and foremost, be up front with all employees and prospective employees about your organization's process for requesting and receiving accommodations on the job. You will alleviate stress for all parties if a clear plan and policy has been put in place and shared with all.

Consider the following promising practices:

  1. Establish and make known a process for requesting accommodations - at every point in the employment process.  It is good management practice to inform all new hires, regardless of disability or perceived need, of the process for requesting accommodations at every point in the employment process. After all, if you don't already have people with disabilities in your workforce, chances are you will someday, or that some of your current employees will acquire the need for an accommodation. So establishing a process for requesting job accommodations lets all employees know your company's commitment to ensuring equal access and opportunity.
  2. Consider an Invitation to Self-Identify. This practice has been used by a variety of businesses for equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action compliance reasons. This approach can also help employers collect voluntary and private information to aid them in pursuing business tax-credit opportunities. A promising practice in the business community is using the Invitation to Self-Identify as a method to let Veteran applicants and employees with disabilities know what the process and procedure would be for disclosure, in addition to the method by which the company chooses to field requests for accommodations.

Know where to obtain free, one-on-one guidance on job accommodations

Should an employer, HR professional or hiring manager need or prefer additional one-on-one assistance regarding accommodations for Veterans with disabilities, or any employees with disabilities, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) can help.  JAN is the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations.  Contact JAN via phone at (800) 526-7234 or (877) 781-9403 (TTY) or online at AskJan.org

Resource Alert!

Consider contacting JAN for suggestions on how to ensure your policies and procedures are structured in a way that is universally accessible. Two links of interest include: Employees' Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and (for hiring managers) The Employers' Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Assistive Technology: Assistive technology is technology used by some individuals with disabilities in order to perform or improve functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies. Through the use of assistive technology, people can keep working or regain employment. Assistive technology in the workplace can range from a simple pointing device to a sophisticated computer screen-reading program.

Resource Alert!

Federal Employers

The Department of Defense (DoD) Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) provides real solutions for real needs while ensuring that people with disabilities and wounded service members have equal access to information and opportunities in the Federal government. Federal agencies/hiring managers can partner with CAP to provide needs assessments and training, as well as assistive technology and accommodation services, at no cost to the requesting agency. Contact a CAP representative for more information.

The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership (NATTAP) provides technical assistance regarding funding of assistive technology.

  • State Assistive Technology Act programs work to improve the provision of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities of all ages through comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance. Additionally, the programs support activities designed to maximize the ability of individuals with disabilities to access and obtain assistive technology devices and services.
  • Federal agencies offer assistive technology assistance to their employees through demonstration centers so employees can try devices before their agencies purchase them. In addition, assistive technology evaluations are available to better determine what devices would work best at a particular worksite.

Did You Know?

Job accommodations for people with disabilities are usually low cost or no cost. A recent study conducted by JAN found that 56 percent of workplace accommodations cost absolutely nothing. Of those accommodations that did have a cost, the typical one-time expenditure by employers was under $600.

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