Meaningful employment is one of the greatest needs of our military veterans and those transitioning from military to civilian life. For the 4 million veterans with a service-connected disability, both visible and invisible, employment concerns include the need to change career paths and fear of hiring discrimination due to disability.
A discussion with Randy Reese, Assistant Executive Director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
Lisnek: There´s about 4 million veterans -- and this is stunning -- about one quarter of the veteran population in the United States has a disability related to their service, the majority of which aren´t even visible. More than half of disabled vets transitioning to the civilian workforce say they fear discrimination when they´re looking for a job because of their disability. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek. And joining me to discuss this issue and some of the resources available to help veterans and their spouses secure meaningful employment is Randy Reese. He´s the assistant executive director of Disabled American Veterans. Randy, good to see you.
Reese: Thanks, Paul.
Lisnek: And I´ll start by saying thank you for your service. You were a -- You parachuted, member of the 82nd Airborne, and you yourself had a bit of a mishap.
Reese: I did. Early in my military career, had a parachute accident that caused a back injury that later led to me exiting military service.
Lisnek: But you decided to say, "In my life, I´m going to work to assist other disabled vets in our work." And I have to tell you, when people come out of the military, I believe, and I´m sure you agree, they have more assets than employers would ever realize, that maybe even they realize that they have.
Reese: Absolutely. I mean, you got to understand that everybody that goes into the military undergoes training. They have discipline. They have a skill set that a lot of people in the private sector doesn´t have. They have leadership skills from actually having been emboldened in leadership roles, and probably the biggest piece that they bring is a work ethic that´s second to none inside the United States.
Lisnek: Let´s talk about the work you do for these disabled vets because they need the tools for success when they enter the workplace, and that´s what you´re giving them.
Reese: Absolutely. You know, one of our newest programs is the DAV Employment program. It´s ran by our director of employment, Jeff Hall, out of our Cincinnati or our Cold Spring, Kentucky, headquarters, and that program opens the doors to life-changing assets. Some of those are on the website that we have, and others are inside of a new resource that we just recently rolled out called "The Veteran Advantage: DAV´s Guide to Hiring and Retaining Veterans with Disabilities." It´s designed around the employer who has some of those myths, some of those misperceptions, if you will, of how veterans actually are, and sometimes it´s even stereotypes of past generations -- the thousand-yard stare of PTSD and the like. So, this will actually dispel some of those myths, some of those rumors. It´ll take the diversity that veterans offer. Hopefully employers will embrace this new guide, welcome veterans into the workplace, and everything from the C-suite all the way down to corporate culture will be changed for the better.
Lisnek: You know, I´m so glad you brought up the employer perspective, because one would think that what we´re gonna talk about completely is the work you do for the disabled vet and the assets that they have, all of which would be true. But we need to put that focus on the employers because there is a sense by which I think even the vets assume they´re going to be under-employed, that their skill base actually goes beyond what some employers might think they´re able to do.
Reese: And that happens more frequently than you would even imagine. When, you know, employers look at veterans, they look at somebody, for the most part, what they stereotype as somebody in uniform that carried a weapon all day and they carry out our nation´s bidding, when, in actuality today, we have the most educated military in history, the most technologically advanced military in history, and the skills and qualifications they bring into the workplace only empowers the private sector. It actually emboldens our economy. So hopefully they´ll take a second look, and our employer guide will give them a way to do so.
Lisnek: I think it´s also worth asking you about potential gender differences. I mean, so many -- I think we might sort of stereotypically have men in our minds when we´re doing this, but we shouldn´t. Not today, anymore. Women -- are there distinctions that have to be drawn with regard to the resources involving healthcare, disabilities, that are available for women?
Reese: There is, and most recently, just this last month, we rolled out an actual report. We presented it to the secretary of Veterans Affairs, to the deputy secretary and his chief of staff, and it´s entitled "DAV Women: The Long Journey Home," was the initial report, and this one is "The Journey Ahead," and in it, it lays out a series of more than 70 recommendations for change within the Department of Veterans Affairs and the actual perceptions of women. And the reason for that is, oftentimes, because women don´t identify as being a veteran themselves, and even when they do and they go seek services and care, it´s almost like it´s a boys club because, generationally, they´re very small as far as the veterans population. But, trust me, they´re growing each and every year, and they bring all the skills and qualifications to the marketplace as their male counterparts.
Lisnek: And it looks like your organization is there to equip them with the resources and tools they need, as well.
Reese: We are, and like we said, it´s "a journey ahead."
Lisnek: For people that want to help you, how can they do that?
Reese: Well, they can certainly come out and visit us on our website, www.DAV.org. The resource that I mentioned as far as the DAV´s Guide to Hiring and Retaining Veterans with Disabilities is a free resource. It´s available online. It can be downloaded. There´s 39 pages. Inside, it´ll give some modern-day statistics to dispel some of the rumors, some great testimonials that are out there, and then it actually gives a checklist so that they can design their employment hiring trends so that it actually would give them comfort in knowing that veterans are there to empower them.
Lisnek: All right. Our hope is and the plan is that the veterans will check you out, both men and women, and the employers will check you out, as well, to see what´s all available to them. Randy Reese, I want to thank you for the work that you´ve done. Thank you for your service. You did jump out of a plane again after that, right?
Reese: I did for many years after that -- 10 in total.
Lisnek: All right, congratulations. Disabled American Vets is the organization. And I appreciate you watching, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community, across our country, all you got to do is go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Paul Lisnek.