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Why Aren't Veterans Disclosing their Disabilities?

Why Aren't Veterans Disclosing their Disabilities?

Soldier in a wheelchair looking at his family

The Getting Hired team has been increasingly receiving questions from employers with concerns about why veterans are not disclosing their disabilities. There are a few reasons why this may not be happening:

1.   Lack of understanding of veteran protections – Many employers ask on job applications if an applicant is a protected veteran, based on the outlined four categories, but employers should not assume that applicants who are protected veterans also have disabilities.

2.   Confusion between non-service and service-connected disabilities – Sometimes the differences between service connected and non-service connected disabilities can confuse veterans such that they don’t disclose their disabilities. Service connected disabilities are defined as injuries or diseases that are incurred in or aggravated by active military service. Non-service connected disabilities are those that are not incurred while in active military service. For example, a veteran with a speech-related disability may or may not have a service-connected disability. If they experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the military, their speech can be affected, and it would be considered service connected. If the person was born with or acquired a speech-related disability outside of military service, it would not be considered service connected.

3.   Confusion between ADA definition of disability and VA disability rating – Employers that desire to engage veterans with disabilities are often unclear about the definitions of disabilities. The ADA defines an “individual with a disability” as a person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. A veteran’s disability rating is a percentage that the VA's Rating Authorities assign a Disabled Veteran during the VA Disability Process. The VA Disability Rating determines the amount of VA Disability Benefits a veteran receives for their service-connected conditions. Many veterans assume if they do not have a disability rating, they do not have a disability; however, this is not always the case. In order to get such a rating the veteran must first file a claim.

4.   Fear of employment discrimination - Consistent research suggests that a significant reason why veterans with disabilities aren’t disclosing is fear of employment discrimination. Veterans continually share that fear of stigma or stereotyping, especially for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and/or depression often prevent them from sharing with employers about their disabilities.

What Can Employers Do to Encourage Veterans’ Disability Disclosure?

From recruitment to retention, many employers have implemented strategic practices and disability hiring initiatives that are helping increase overall numbers of workers with disabilities in the US. As employers continue to make improvements to ensure their employment practices are more disability inclusive, employees with disabilities are becoming more open to disclosing their disabilities and accommodation needs.

While disability disclosure is an individual decision, there are a few things that employers can do to help veterans with disabilities feel more comfortable disclosing. They include:

1.   Actively recruit veterans with disabilities – While it’s one thing to say you have an inclusive workplace, it’s another to actively seek out veterans with disabilities at hiring events and other venues (such as Veteran Centers). Active recruitment helps prove your desire to employ people with disabilities. In addition to attending events, employers should also ensure the word “disability,” and even “veterans with disabilities,” is included in recruitment materials, along with including pictures of people with disabilities on both print and web materials. Your application should also indicate that you understand the various protected veteran categories.

2.   Develop a Veterans Employee Resource Group (ERG) – When seeking to hire veterans with disabilities, successful ERGs (or Veteran Resource Groups (VRGs)), can serve as a potential draw. VRGs can provide a unique space for veterans to meet, share experiences, collaborate, and learn from one another. They also provide opportunities for other non-veterans within the company to learn more about the value that veterans bring to employers and help dispel myths about veterans with disabilities. Employers can also host mentorship programs for veterans to mentor other veterans and help them with their transitions into the workforce.

3.   Foster supportive employer-employee relationships – It is important for veterans with disabilities to feel comfortable sharing about their needs and accommodation requests without fear of negative repercussions. By working to build a climate of trust where employees can feel open about sharing with their employers, especially their managers, veterans are more likely to disclose. It is also important to ensure all employees are aware of the commitment to inclusion. This also means enforcing inclusive policies among other employees, including emphasizing harassment and anti-bullying policies.

4.   Learn about various services and supports – It’s important for employers to learn about the numerous services and supports specifically designed for veterans with disabilities. When it comes to service connected vs. non-service connected disabilities, it’s also important for employers to understand that veterans’ needs, including appropriate access to services and support networks, may differ. For example, while veterans with service connected disabilities may need to be connected to support groups to help them learn more about managing their disabilities, those with non-service connected disabilities may need to be connected to other resources simply to acclimate to civilian life.

5.   Remember that disability is diversity – Employers that desire to increase diversity in the workplace should keep in mind that disability is represented in all aspects of diversity, whether in gender identity, race, or as veterans.

For additional information on how to attract and retain veterans with disabilities talent, check out our piece on “How to attract, evaluate, onboard and retain veteran talent.” For more resources on hiring veterans with disabilities, contact the Getting Hired team. Veteran job seekers with disabilities should also be sure to check out the Getting Hired Job Board.

Contributions to this blog were made by Andraéa LaVant of Solutions Marketing Group.