DOD Seeks to Better Support Disabled Employees, Official Says

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2010 — The Defense Depart­ment employs about 45,000 work­ers with dis­abil­i­ties, but needs to boost aware­ness of a pro­gram to sup­port, hire and retain them, the DOD’s direc­tor of dis­abil­i­ty pro­grams said today.
On the eve of the 30th Annu­al Depart­ment of Defense Dis­abil­i­ty Awards cer­e­mo­ny, “Tal­ent Has No Bound­aries,” Stephen King said the Defense Depart­ment is in a review phase to iden­ti­fy and sup­port employ­ees with dis­abil­i­ties.

“There’s a lot of diver­si­ty in indi­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties,” King said. “And they range from learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties to psy­chi­atric [con­di­tions], post-trau­mat­ic stress syn­drome, which can real­ly show itself in many ways in the work­force, from short-term mem­o­ry loss or trou­ble focus­ing on a task, to indi­vid­u­als who are miss­ing a limb or have anoth­er mobil­i­ty impair­ment. A dis­abled indi­vid­ual could be blind or hard of hear­ing. It runs the gamut.”

The num­ber of defense civil­ian and mil­i­tary employ­ees who are dis­abled could be high­er; how­ev­er, infor­ma­tion is dis­closed on a vol­un­tary basis. But accu­rate sta­tis­tics are key to know­ing which defense pro­grams are effec­tive and which need extra resources, King said. “You can­not do that with­out the sta­tis­tics to back it up.”

“We know part of the changes, we need to make employ­ees aware of the impor­tance of self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion because those sta­tis­tics help us deter­mine if the pro­grams in place are effec­tive, need to be expand­ed, or resources need to be bet­ter uti­lized some oth­er place,” he added.

The vol­un­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion of indi­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties has declined since the program’s incep­tion in 1987, King not­ed. He isn’t sure why the num­bers have dropped over the years, he said. Dis­abled vets com­ing on board, for exam­ple, might elect not to dis­close a con­di­tion.

“Although we are hir­ing more dis­abled vet­er­ans, it’s not the increase you’d expect,” King said.

“The sup­port for indi­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties just has­n’t led to the results we were expect­ing,” he con­tin­ued. “So, it’s some­thing that requires fur­ther eval­u­a­tion, [and] to think out­side of the box.”

The DOD has always active­ly recruit­ed indi­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties, King said. Vet­er­ans have pref­er­ence in apply­ing for fed­er­al gov­ern­ment jobs, and dis­abled vet­er­ans have an even high­er pri­or­i­ty for being hired into a job for which they qual­i­fy.

“We’re not cut­ting back, we’re not just get­ting start­ed, and we need to do it a lit­tle more strate­gi­cal­ly,” he said. “Now we’re review­ing our pro­ce­dures, pro­grams, recruit­ing ini­tia­tives, and we do need to make improve­ments.”

The issue of vol­un­tary dis­clo­sure is not the only con­cern, King acknowl­edged.

“Sta­tis­tics show peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are three times as like­ly to leave the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment as those who are not dis­abled. Agen­cies have to fig­ure out why that is,” he said.

An Exec­u­tive Order recent­ly signed by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma requires fed­er­al agen­cies to cre­ate a five-year plan to increase their par­tic­i­pa­tion in hir­ing indi­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties, in addi­tion to retain­ing them, King said.

“We’re in the process of devel­op­ing our plan now, he said. “It’s going to require unprece­dent­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Defense Depart­ment, the Office of Diver­si­ty Man­age­ment and Equal Oppor­tu­ni­ty,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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