Tips for agencies when hiring veterans with disabilities

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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Agencies are increasing their ranks of injured veterans as they try to fulfill White House hiring mandates to recruit more veterans and more people with disabilities. But unease about how disabled vets will fit into civilian work environments persists.

“There’s a great fear — an unfounded fear — that every veteran will have [post-traumatic stress disorder] or a traumatic brain injury,” Lisa Stern, a workforce and diversity consultant, told Federal News Radio in an interview after Friday’s training event in Bethesda, Md.

She added hiring officials commonly fear that “veterans are going to be too structured. That they’re not going to be flexible enough.”

Stern said she has heard reports of hiring managers revising job descriptions after receiving only veterans’ applications.

“People don’t recognize the ease in which veterans can be brought into the federal workforce,” she said.

The Obama administration has made it a priority to hire more people with disabilities, especially veterans who have been injured. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in July 2010 requiring agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities by 2015. OPM has provided online tools to help departments meet that goal.

The White House also mandated agencies hire more veterans. In 2010, OPM reported agencies hired 30 percent more veterans than in 2009. Agencies hired a total of 72,133 veterans in 2010, and veterans make up about 25.6 percent of all new hires. OPM also reported that the hiring of disabled veterans increased to 23,140 in 2010 from 20,448 in 2009.

Stern led federal hiring officials in a workshop Friday on helping injured vets returning from combat transition to civilian jobs. Her training session was part of a conference sponsored by several agencies, including the Defense and Labor Departments and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Agency hiring officials can be quick to dismiss veterans’ resumes because “that translation from military-speak to civilian-speak is very, very difficult,” she said. “Many resumes are being scanned these days with keyword searches. Acronyms don’t make it to the top.”

She consults veterans and hiring officials alike to use the Labor’s online aid or another translation tool to see how military experience matches with civilian professions.

She offered participants a few more tips to enable injured vets to succeed in an agency.

  • Take advantage of flexible work policies. It does not take a lot of effort or expense to accommodate veterans with PTSD or brain injuries, she said. Some tactics that work well are letting them telework, providing written directions or permitting them to take notes on their mobile phone so that the information is saved directly to their calendars. “It is really just asking your employees what they need to do their jobs best,” she said.
  • Explain what it takes to succeed in the job. “The civilian workplace is a really bizarre place,” to a veteran, she said. “In the military, you have a very clear idea of how you move up the ladder. It’s not so clear in the civilian workforce. Help the veteran understand what they need to do to get to that next level,” in what is a “pretty wishy-washy” evaluation process, she said. That might mean evaluating their performance more than four times a year.
  • Use tools to speed up hiring of veterans and disabled candidates.Federal hiring authorities for veterans and disabled people can shorten the time it takes to fill a vacancy to four days, she said. But, overall, “people should just become aware,” she said. “Most service members can reintegrate perfectly and wonderfully into society.”


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