Stanley: Pentagon Must Do Better in Hiring Disabled

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)

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