Like many Americans, I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving next week by taking stock of my many blessings: friends, family and the freedom to pursue my life and career goals. So I find it most apropos that November is also Military Family Month, a time when we express appreciation for the men and women who work to protect our freedom and the many spouses, parents, children and siblings who support them.
Of course, one of the best ways we as a nation can and must express appreciation for our military families is to make sure that uniformed service members, including those who have acquired disabilities, can put their hard-earned skills and real-world experience to work once they enter civilian life. In other words, we need to make sure they have the ability to pursue their life and career goals.
This indebtedness is the premise behind updates to the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act announced by the Labor Department in August. Administered by the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, VEVRAA prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against certain protected veterans with disabilities. It also requires them to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote and retain these veterans.
The new rule, which goes into effect on March 24, 2014, strengthens VEVRAA’s affirmative action provisions by requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to establish an annual hiring benchmark, either based on the national percentage of veterans in the workforce (currently 8 percent), or based on the best available data and factors unique to their organizations. If every contractor in the United States were to achieve the benchmarks set forth in the final rule, then 200,000 veterans would be hired in the first year alone.
The need for the new rule is clear. Like people with disabilities overall, veterans with disabilities are sometimes overlooked by managers with preconceived notions about their ability to perform on the job. Yet, they have given so much in service to their country. The dedicated team at OFCCP and my colleagues and I at the Office of Disability Employment Policy are committed to reversing this inequity. Doing so is the very least we can do to express our thankfulness—this month and every month—to those who have sacrificed in service in the name of freedom, and to their families.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.