Entering the Workforce as a Veteran with a Disability
Those who have chosen to serve the United States in the armed forces have much more to give when their time in the military is over. Veterans are well-known to be some of the hardest working, most dedicated and disciplined people in the workforce. veterans with disabilities, in particular, can shine brightly when given the right opportunities. This guide takes a look at the wide variety of careers that might suit veterans with disabilities, the reasons why employers should rush to hire them, the rights of veterans with disabilities in the workforce and more.
10 Reasons Why Veterans Make Great Employees
To say that veterans can handle a great deal of responsibility is an understatement. Many of these strong individuals have come through challenges and seen more difficult moments than most of us can imagine. Compared to some of the courageous actions on a battlefield or tense moments in making important decisions, a civilian job can seem like a walk in the park.
Here are more reasons why veterans make excellent employees:
They work well on a team.
In the military, it’s all about teamwork. These individuals know how to work in a team, delegate well, find the hidden strengths others may have and resolve conflict quickly and reasonably.
They have good troubleshooting abilities.
You’re in the middle of the desert and your radio just decided to die, your Humvee is making a strange noise, and there’s a rather suspicious vehicle up ahead. What now? Veterans have been through scenarios like this, so they know where to begin figuring things out.
They have a great work ethic.
Most of us don’t get up in the wee hours for a 5-mile run. Most of us don’t then put on a uniform and report to duty, where being on your feet for another 12 hours is not uncommon. When someone has gone through the rigors of military life, working in an office is an absolute breeze.
Their sense of duty and responsibility.
Veterans often have an intrinsic need to seek purpose in whatever they pursue; for many, it’s why those chose to serve in the first place. Give a veteran the opportunity to do something meaningful and watch their success shine.
The ability to see things through to completion.
Veterans are accustomed to seeing a job through to completion; leaving something undone or doing a sub-par job just isn’t in their nature. This is very helpful for the employer that wants to make sure things are done the right way the first time.
Their organizational skills.
Servicemembers must be highly organized. That starts with their most basic training and continues throughout their military career. Expect a veteran to bring that same sense of organization to any job they pursue.
Military discipline transfers to civilian life.
Veterans tend to be just as disciplined as they were in the military, albeit in a different way. They will show up right on time for work, pursue a project to its completion, make a point of getting it all right the first time, seeking feedback from supervisors, and by doing so, encourage others to rise to the same level of discipline.
They are masters at adaptability.
Military experience allows a veteran to look at a dynamic situation, where there are many decision options, and choose the best one even in the face of uncertainty. That’s a strong asset when it comes to working in business environments, where organizations must regularly react to economic changes.
They are able to understand and follow rules.
In some situations – especially in combat – following rules and paying attention to the chain of command can mean the difference between life and death. It’s safe to say that deep understanding and attention to rules doesn’t stop when a person is out of uniform.
They have confidence in their personal ability.
Veterans often have a quiet, sure confidence that infuses everything they do – and it makes those near them more confident in their own abilities, too. This unique brand of confidence is earned through hard work and dedication.
Focus on Veterans with Disabilities in the Workplace
- Military veterans are twice as likely to pursue building their own business than non-veterans.
- The five-year success rate of veteran-owned businesses is much higher than the national average.
- 13.7% of veterans jump into starting their own businesses, as compared to 9.8% of civilians.
- 30% of veterans have disabilities as a result of their military service.
- 28% of veterans have found that their disability kept them from getting a job at some point in their lives.
- 46% of veterans who are not working right now cite their disability as a factor in being unable to get a job.
- 41% of veterans believe their service prepared them for a post-service career.
- Fewer veterans with disabilities are employed compared to veterans without disabilities. Only 32% of veterans with an ACS and service-connected disability and only 37% of those on ACS disability are employed, compared with over 75% of veterans without disabilities.
- 59% of accommodations for those with disabilities are free to the employer; 39% of accommodations require only a one-time cost.
- 57% of veterans feared their disability would lead to workplace discrimination.
- 73% of veterans with disabilities did not intend to ask for an accommodation during employment.
“SC” stands for “service-connected” disability; “ACS” indicates a difficulty with hearing, vision, cognitive ability, ambulatory movement, self-care or independent living. An ACS disability might not be related to service.
Sources: ADA National Network, Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, DAV.org, Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Syracuse University,
Pew Research Center
What are Some of the Best Careers for Vets with Disabilities?
Given the drive to succeed that a veteran can bring to the table, it’s safe to say that with the right training and education, they can thrive in any kind of job. But there are some careers that seem to draw these individuals; many of these jobs allow them to make use of the unique skills they built while serving. We’ve taken a deep dive into some of these careers.
What Makes These Careers Good for Veterans with Disabilities?
Though there is an enormous list of jobs available for veterans and veterans with disabilities, as well as civilians with disabilities, there are some jobs that might prove to be more desirable than others. These positions offer a healthy challenge for those who want to help others while using their military training and skills. Here’s why the following careers are a great idea:
Most people will jump at the chance to help others, but veterans are a special breed – they often feel as though it’s their duty to do what they can to make life easier for those around them.Puts their former training to good use.
Those who served are highly-trained professionals with skills that transcend boundaries. No matter what job they choose, some aspect of that training will kick in – and it could be something that gives them the opportunity to make the job even better.Allows for easier accommodations.
People with disabilities don’t want special treatment – they just want to be equal to everyone else. While people with disabilities have legal rights to ask for workplace accommodations and should never hesitate to do so, several of these careers enable individuals to ask for little to no accommodations.Presents a new and unique challenge.
Perhaps these positions are taking a different path than a person envisioned for themselves. But sometimes having a disability can provide opportunities that weren’t on the radar years ago, and embracing those new options – and the challenges that come along with them – can be quite rewarding.Provides opportunities for advancement.
Each of the careers here offers opportunities for advancement, either through promotions or lateral moves. The opportunity to “rank up” as someone would in the military can feed the natural desire for challenge that many veterans will always feel.
Career Spotlight for Veterans with Disabilities
What the job entails:
Physical therapists work with individuals with injuries to help with rehabilitation, pain management and treatment. This requires physical therapists to take a hands-on approach in helping patients complete a certain task or exercise.Why veterans with disabilities might like it:
Patients who wind up in physical therapy often need a motivating professional to help them through the sometimes painful exercises necessary to get back to their best. Many veterans have dealt with their own injuries, or seen others who have, and they know what it takes to overcome the issues that come along with that. This is perfect for veterans who have full mobility, as the job does require physical strength, flexibility and stamina. A career as a PT assistant could also be ideal.Physical Therapist
- Education required: Doctor of Physical Therapy degree
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS): $86,850
- Job growth 2016-2026: +28%
- Education required, PT assistant: PT associate degree & licensure
- Education required, PT aide: High school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS), PT assistant: $57,430
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS), PT aide: $25,730
- Job growth 2016-2026, PT assistants & aides: +30%
What the job entails:
Radiology technicians work closely with nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals to take x-rays and other imaging studies of patients. These images often require a person to move in ways that might be difficult; therefore the radiology technician could provide hands-on help to move patients into the appropriate positions. Some technicians also help patients by providing medications to ingest that make the images more useful in diagnosing various conditions.Why veterans with disabilities might like it:
Much like physical therapy, this job requires physical strength and flexibility, so it’s good for veterans who don’t have physical limitations. The short period of education required means a veteran can get into the workforce faster, and the job empowers them to help others. It can also enable veterans to get the “foot in the door” that leads them to other medical health professions in the future.
- Education required: Associate degree in radiology technology
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS): $58,440
- Job growth 2016-2026: +12%
What the job entails:
Mental health counselors help those who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, substance abuse and addiction, and even people who may just need help with everyday struggles. They might work with individual patients, couples, families or groups. Their counseling services might be provided on a one-on-one basis or as part of a larger program, such as those in a rehabilitation facility or hospital.Why veterans with disabilities might like it:
veterans with disabilities might be drawn to counseling for the simple fact that it allows them to help people on a very deep level – and that can be especially rewarding for veterans who have struggled with issues like PTSD. Counseling others also provides a rewarding career that doesn’t require full mobility, so those who have physical limitations can easily thrive doing this important work.
- Education required: At least a bachelor’s degree, various licensures depending on specialty
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS): $43,300
- Job growth 2016-2026: 23%
What the job entails:
Teachers can educate students in a wide variety of subjects, from English to math to humanities. The work encompasses not only classroom time with students, but time after school to grade papers, plan projects, decorate classrooms, attend meetings with colleagues and parents, and perhaps even coach or advice student organizations.Why veterans with disabilities might like it:
Teachers have the power to influence, impart wisdom, and encourage students to thrive in ways they never expected. But besides being an inspirational job, it’s also a career that requires a great deal of organization and discipline – something that veterans certainly have. From helping middle school students find their way to preparing college students for meaningful work, any school system would be lucky to have a veteran among their ranks.
- Education required: Bachelor’s degree and teaching license–substitute teachers require less.
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS): $59,170
- Job growth 2016-2026: 8%
What the job entails:
Also known as a healthcare social worker, these individuals do just what their job title says: They serve as advocates for patients when dealing with hospital or healthcare system administrators, as well as sometimes serve as a go-between with insurance companies and patients or hospitals. These advocates take patient concerns seriously and do their best to ensure the patient receives the best-quality care.Why veterans with disabilities might like it:
Many veterans have dealt with the healthcare system for years; they are intimately familiar with the red tape, roadblocks and other frustrations that come along with healthcare and insurance issues. That’s exactly why they would be perfect advocates for those who need help navigating the often troublesome waters of today’s healthcare systems.
- Education required: Bachelor’s degree in some instances, typically a master’s degree
- Median yearly salary, 2017 (BLS): $54,870
- Job growth 2016-2026: 20%
For information on getting hired as a veteran, see the following guide for resources, tips and advice.Veteran’s Guide to Getting Hired
Employment Rights for Veterans with Disabilities
There are numerous laws in place that aim to protect employees with disabilities. These laws often pertain to providing appropriate accommodations, informing employees with a disabilities of their rights and more. But veterans with disabilities have even greater, expanded protections, through rights that are specifically designed with disabled veteran employees in mind. Here’s what every disabled vet needs to know.
How the ADA and the USERRA Protects Veterans with Disabilities in the Workplace
There are two significant laws that protect those with disabilities:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act protects all people who have a disability
- The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act pertains to who served in the armed services.
Here’s how they each work.
The ADA is a major federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability. The ADA applies in a variety of contexts, including employment.How does it provide protections?
The ADA prohibits discrimination in many facets of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion and training. The ADA also requires certain employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees to allow them to complete their job duties.
For more information, go to the ADA website.
The USERRA provides many employment rights to members of the armed forces, including those on reserve, active and veteran status. The most significant rights include reemployment to a prior civilian job following military service and protection against discrimination or retaliation on the basis of military service.How does it provide protections?
This law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against veterans and those on active duty military status. It’s also unlawful for employers to take away employment benefits of veteran and active duty employees or retaliate against them if they attempt to enforce their rights provided by the USERRA.
For more information, visit the USERRA website.
Rights in the Workplace Q&A
There’s more veterans need to know about their rights in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides a great deal of information about the rights veterans have in the workplace. Here are some key points:
What does the ADA prohibit?
An employer many not discriminate against an employee in any aspect of employment on the basis of a recognized disability. The ADA also prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who exercises ADA protected rights.
Who does the ADA apply to?
The ADA applies to covered employers (an employer with 15 or more employees, as well as state and federal governments) and any employee with a recognized disability who is otherwise qualified to fulfill the job duties of their position. Additionally, the ADA bans discrimination of anyone who is not disabled, but is associated with someone with a disability or is believed to have one. As an example, an employer could not discriminate against a non-disabled employee because they are married to a disabled veteran or because the employer thinks the employee might have PTSD.
What makes a disability recognized by the ADA?
Not every disability is recognized and covered by the ADA. Only disabilities that substantially limit one or more life activities are protected. This can include mental or physical disabilities. Examples of life activities include talking, seeing, hearing, breathing, walking, working and caring for oneself. The ADA’s definition of “disabled” is not the same as the ones used by the US Department of Defense or the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Is it legal for an employer to ask a job applicant if they are a veteran with a disability?
Yes, although the job applicant may choose not to answer the question. Additionally, the employer may only ask this question for affirmative action purposes. When asking for this information, the employer must disclose that answering the question is optional. The employer may only use this information to help the job applicant secure employment. Many employers have a preference for hiring veterans or veterans with disabilities.
How does the job applicant’s status as a veteran with a disability affect the hiring process?
The ADA prohibits “negative discrimination” on the basis of a disability. However, it does not prohibit an employer from using a job applicant’s disability status as a reason to hire the individual over someone else how is otherwise perfectly qualified for the job, but is not a disabled veteran.
How does a veteran with a disability obtain a reasonable accommodation?
They must ask for the accommodation. An employer is not required by law to automatically provide a reasonable accommodation, however they must provide when asked. The burden is on the employee to ask for the accommodation and provide information to support the request.
Q. What are your best tips for veterans with disabilities to find a career they can thrive in?
PETE: We are trained to carry out nearly 200 jobs from the various departments throughout the military. These jobs create superb experience, expertise, knowledge and management skills to be a CEO and more. We have the courage and the discipline to do our best and to never accept defeat. The U.S. thrives very well with military personnel transitioning to civilian employment. veterans with disabilities are qualified and committed with transferable skills to assist in real world situations.
SWAPP: I suggest veterans look for opportunities that provide a real value to people. Not only will you be in a successful company you will be in a career of service. Service is a key word that is a remedy to depression or laziness. When you feel good about what you are doing you love to get up in the morning and go to work.
YOUNG: Understand that your experiences and current-ability-level adds value for an organization. Use your insights to your advantage and find a way to leverage the skills that you learned while in the services. Understanding that your current ability level is not a detriment to your ability to provide valuable service to an organization, and being able to speak to that ability is key. Practice having these conversations.
Q. What can employers do to support and empower employees who are veterans with disabilities?
KNESS: There are several things an employer can do. One, they can make accommodations to the veteran’s workplace to make it more accessible for them. This could include adjusting the height of a desk or workspace in the case of wheelchair-bound employees. Two, they could form and organize a support group for disabled veterans within their company. Not only could veterans talk with other veterans for mutual support, but the employer could also get valuable information on changes that could make things easier for disabled employees. Many of these same suggestions would also fall under the American Disabilities Act. In the case of having a service animal at work, having a designated pet area not requiring going up or down steps would be beneficial in the case of wheelchair-bound employees with service animals.
PETE: Employees can learn a valuable lesson from veterans with disabilities especially when it comes down to team building and keeping the morale healthy among the employees in a company. Treating everyone fairly and learning how to support equality by alleviating unfairness in the workplace is beneficial for all. Just because some veterans may have acquired some disabilities external or internal doesn’t mean they are to be looked down upon. As a matter of fact Congress has passed a law to give tax incentives to Employers for hiring veterans with disabilities and what a treat that could be.
SWAPP: Veterans really do not want special treatment. When you have been in the service and serving your country it is extremely hard to accept service or being served. Our pride gets in the way sometimes. Hiring preference is a huge plus and being observant of physical needs such as someone with prosthesis needing a special workbench or special chair. Employers need to accommodate the best they can without hurting pride, if you will.
YOUNG: Offer your employed veterans a place at the table to talk about workplace inclusivity, sensitivity training, accommodating the needs of the differently-abled. Their insights are invaluable, and the nature of their training within the military may unearth opportunities and ideas that you haven’t thought of. Consider the diversity of your company, perhaps there is room for a diversity officer who could help educate you on the importance of a diverse workforce, and how to achieve it.
Q. How can and should veterans with disabilities address their situation and ask for reasonable accommodation with a potential employer or employer?
KNESS: If a veteran can do all aspects of a job except one that can be accommodated with some minor modifications to the person’s workspace, then s/he should ask the employer if they would make those accommodations. In other cases, the employer may ask if there is an accommodation that could be made to make it easier for the veteran to do their work if they notice that person is struggling with something in particular. If asked and there is something that can be done to make the work easier, the disabled veteran should by all means state what it is. Veterans are a proud bunch of people and many times that proudness clouds their need for help. Sometimes all it takes is an employer asking the question instead of the veteran volunteering the request.
PETE: Veterans with disabilities should be awarded the opportunity to address any disabilities sustained through serving and fighting for peace, the freedom and the safety through the sacrifices made for our nation. The form DD214 is the perfect form to view by an employer to help understand a certain criteria regarding the request of a reasonable accommodation by veterans with disabilities. This form explains where the service member has served, accomplished and achieved. Employers should also take the time to read the rules and regulations regarding disabled veteran’s rights this provides the education needed to handle any military personnel.
SWAPP: If a veteran needs an accommodation the potential employer needs to know about it in the hiring process and be aware right up front. A very open dialog needs to happen in the interview process and insure the employer knows what they are getting and the veteran understands the scope of work. The veteran must have confidence that they will be successful and be of value so the more open the discussion the better.
YOUNG: Research your question or issue online to research potential solutions and how other companies have handled similar accommodations and set up a private meeting with a member of the Human Resources department within your organization. It is their job to advocate for you. It is always helpful to come prepared with potential solutions to the problem so that you and your employer can tackle the problem together.
Q. Anything else you’d like to add about veterans with disabilities in the workforce?
KNESS: As a veteran you know that most physical disabilities are easy to identify, but PTSD is different. It is a mental disability that results because of recurring disturbing events experienced while serving. Because of the stigma many employers have concerning PTSD, many veterans applying for work are afraid to disclose PTSD in fear that it will negatively impact on the hiring decision.
But in fact, a veteran should disclose it as it could have further consequences by not doing so. For example, if the veteran needs an emotional support animal, can the workplace make that accommodation? Or a fellow employee may have an allergy to that type of animal; there might not be a readily available pet area where the veteran can take his or her animal to the bathroom, etc.
So disclosing PTSD up-front is the best course of action. That way the employer knows of the disability and will be able to make a decision as to whether accommodations can be made to that job or not, just as they would do for someone having a physical disability.
PETE: I strongly feel like veterans and veterans with disabilities make the best politicians. We all know and understand how to step on the big stage to solve the world’s issues and concerns. I’ve had thoughts of becoming a Senator myself, because I am a people person and I care about America and around the world. We need more love, love heals…
YOUNG: If you’re a Veteran with a service-connected disability, you qualify for hiring preference when competing for certain federal jobs, and private sector employers may qualify for certain tax benefits by employing a veteran through SEI – look up these benefits and be able to discuss them with a potential employer. And make sure that your veteran transcript is accurate prior to your job search.
Career Resources & Support for Veterans with Disabilities
Fortunately, there are many training and education resources to help veterans with disabilities go to get help setting up their career. Here are 10 of the best:
Employing 45,000 people with severe disabilities of which 3,000 are veterans and wounded warriors, this organization makes many different products under the tradename SKILCRAFT®. From its 1,000 plus locations across the United States and Guam, it made and sold over $3.3 billion in products and services in 2017 of which the largest customer was the Department of Defense.
Transitioning over to Career OneStop, AJC is a place where veterans can take a variety of training, including job search and career planning workshops, that can help connect them with employment agencies that have open vacancies to fill (such as EARN).
A multi-federal agency website, it is a plethora of resources and a gateway to state and federal benefits on disability assistance. While some of the resources are for disabled veterans, many of the ones listed apply to non-military individuals with disabilities as well.
Operated by the U.S. Department of Labor, EARN is a cost-free resource where employers can post jobs with various employment service providers to help fill job vacancies with disabled veterans.
Operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, EBV is a no-cost program where veterans can learn how to establish their own business from the ground up in a short amount of time. Because people with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be self-employed than those without disabilities, this is an important career training program in entrepreneurship. EBV is a three-phase program:
- Phase one is a one-month instructor-led program online covering the basis of starting a business.
- Phase two is a 9-day resident course taught at any one of the nine EBV universities that consists of 80 hours of instruction taught by 30 entrepreneurship educators that teach the nuts and bolts of business ownership. This is an intense phase that is also designed to motivate students to take action in setting up their own businesses.
- Phase three follows up by providing up to 12 months of support and mentorship from a network of resources like mentors and national partnerships.
Once established in their own business, they can register through the Vets First Verification Program and eligible to do business with the VA.
Veterans can use this searchable database to find a career or industry they would like to work in or they can search out jobs in the civilian workplace similar in nature to ones they had in the military.
A partnership between the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, it connects wounded warriors, veterans, service members and families to services and resources at the national, state and local levels for not only career employment, but also education and training if required.
This resource of the Department of Labor is a clearinghouse that connects veterans, including those with disabilities, with federal government agencies that are hiring veterans, including the USDA, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Homeland Security and others. Agencies post jobs on this website while veterans can search for those jobs. It also works in conjunction with other non-federal job banks, such as the AJC and state and local employment offices.
This is another employer/potential employee resource that provides information and links to resources that help veterans find meaningful career opportunities through special government and partner programs.
Certain disabled veterans that participated in specific military campaigns or served during certain periods of time may qualify for job preference over non-disabled applicants when applying for a federal job. Using the preference places the disabled applicant higher on the hiring list and is another tool in the job search tool box.
A free program from the Department of Education, veterans can use it to help refresh academic skills and increase their confidence level that they may need when going to school or going back to school to complete a degree.
A Department of Veterans Affairs program, VR&E helps find a job for veterans within their limitations by providing job training, employment accommodations and job search coaching. Through personalized support and counseling, veterans can get their career on track and make the best use of their VA benefits they earned and are authorized to use.