BETHESDA, Md. — The Defense Department is doing a “pretty good” job at hiring talented disabled people for its civilian work force, but it needs to do much better, the Pentagon’s top personnel official said here yesterday.
“I am somewhat routinely frustrated by a bureaucracy that coins terms like, ‘hiring reform,’ to get people into the system faster,” Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said during his keynote remarks at the 30th annual Disability Awards Ceremony and Forum. “I don’t even want to tell you what our percentage is of disabled employees at the Defense Department, because I’m not too happy about it.”
Stanley said the department is doing a “pretty good” job in its hiring of talented disabled employees, but it could be doing be a lot better. “We need to do a better job of finding people,” Stanley said, noting that he goes to sleep “each night thinking about how I can make this day better” in the hiring of disabled civilians and former servicemembers.
Stanley partly blames a bureaucratic system that he believes “doesn’t want to move the way you think it should move.” “It shouldn’t take as long as it does to hire people,” he said, noting that talent “is not a function of eyesight, walking, hands and arms.” Stanley has an emotional stake in the disabled. In Wheaton, Md., in April 1975, a gunman shot and killed his uncle and wounded his wife, Rosalyn, leaving her partially paralyzed. “Talent is a function of what’s going on in here,” Stanley said, pointing to his head. “And I want to underscore ’spirit.’ Spirit is the motivation that gets you over the hump each day.”
When people love what they’re doing and love their country, “you’d be surprised at the heights you’d go to, no matter what your disability might be, to make a difference for our nation,” he said.
The undersecretary told the audience he wanted to “plant that seed,” as he introduced Army Capt. Ivan Castro, an active-duty soldier who is blind. Castro told the audience his story of serving near Baghdad in September 2006 when he had just released two of his men from an observation post. It was minutes later when mortars landed near him.
Castro’s injuries were myriad and severe, he said, and in the end, the doctors could not save his eyesight.
The wounded warrior said he set out on a mission to stop feeling sorry for himself and to learn to walk again and live independently. After intensive physical and occupational therapies, Castro said, he developed many everyday skills, including how to use a computer and send e‑mail. “Because technology changes all the time, I consider myself a work in progress,” he said.
Castro also developed his physical skills, logging four Army 10-milers, five half-marathons, 13 marathons, and several other running, biking and hiking feats. But the best was yet to come.
Castro connected with the Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program, a federal initiative that equips federal disabled employees and servicemembers – with disabilities ranging from dexterity issues to cognitive difficulties, vision loss, and hearing impairments — to perform tasks. CAP uses assistive technology devices, equipment and training to help them recover and transition into employment.
Castro was able to return to active-duty with the Army. “Thanks to a change in military culture and mindset,” he said, “some of us [disabled servicemembers] have been able to sustain life-threatening injuries and deploy back into combat” or serve in other military assignments.
Today, as of one of three active-duty servicemembers who are blind, Castro is an officer in the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C. “We are honoring, today, our disabled [employees], but there’s more to it than just that,” Stanley said. “My wife reminds me every day that I’m temporarily able. It doesn’t take much — for any of us here — for circumstances [to change and] find you in a way you didn’t anticipate.”
Department officials awarded 19 civilians and servicemembers with disabilities for their outstanding service, and four agencies for their commitments to “further equality to individuals with mental and physical disabilities.”
The Department of the Navy won the award for best military department for 2010; the National Security Agency took the best intelligence component for the year; the best mid-sized agency went to the Defense Logistics Agency, and the defense office of Inspector General won in the best small agency category for the year.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)