By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – The Defense Department’s hiring of wounded warriors and others with disabilities is on an uptick, the Pentagon’s director of disability programs said today.
Stephen M. King, whose office is part of diversity management and equal opportunity, spoke with American Forces Press Service about a recent Office of Personnel Management report that said 14 percent of the Defense Department’s civilian employees have disabilities, putting DOD in second place among cabinet-level agencies for disability hiring.
“There is a greater [applicant] pool, and more emphasis on hiring individuals with disabilities and wounded warriors through two executive orders in the last three years,” King said.
Veterans with disabilities bring values to DOD such as familiarity with military culture, proven leadership and the ability to enter the workforce and “perform on Day 1,” he said.
Additionally, hiring veterans and others with disabilities contributes to military readiness, King said. DOD will reap the benefits of those who have served by hiring them after their service, he added.
DOD and other agencies want to hire veterans with disabilities whether they were injured recently, have acquired a disability, or if the disability is service connected, King said.
“We want … those abilities in DOD regardless of how long ago you were a veteran,” he said.
“For any organization to be its best, you really have to take advantage of and value what everyone brings to the table: their background, knowledge, skills and abilities,” he said.
People with disabilities face unique challenges, King noted. “We need that type of problem-solving ability and skill in the workplace,” he said.
“It is awesome when you get to talk to someone who [wore] a uniform and tells you the difference that you’ve made as an organization by allowing [him] to continue to serve his country but in a different capacity,” King said.
The upward trend in DOD’s disability hiring stems from several initiatives and programs, King said.
“There is a renewed focus within DOD and the federal government on utilizing existing hiring flexibility, [such as] hiring individuals with disabilities noncompetitively,” he said.
Numerous hiring programs include the Hiring Heroes job fairs and the Veterans Hiring Initiative, which seeks out veterans and transitioning service members.
DOD also recruits young people with disabilities as they are about to graduate from more than 250 colleges and universities that participate in the Workforce Recruitment Program, which DOD co-sponsors with the Labor Department, King said.
The goal of the program is to create a database for federal agencies to meet their disability hiring targets, he said.
To further its goals, DOD also is working with human resources policies and advisers so those with disabilities have the opportunity to become integrated into development and leadership programs.
“We want to focus on all types of positions and grade levels … to be inclusive of individuals with all types of disabilities,” he said.
King’s office is working toward getting new employees to disclose their disability information so the department can accurately give them what they need to do their jobs, such as assisted technology.
Such technology runs the gamut, King said, from screen readers for the vision challenged to TTY machines for the deaf to braille keyboards and devices that help those with memory loss. Some wounded warriors have some memory loss due to traumatic brain injuries, he added.
“New technologies are being invented every single day,” King said. “When you look at what we’re capable of providing in the workplace, with the right assistance, it’s actually quite phenomenal, and it’s only going to get better.”