Paralyzed Veterans of America remains cautiously optimistic about two final rules issued by the Labor Department that aim to improve hiring and employment prospects for veterans and people with disabilities.
The final rules, issued Aug. 27, 2013, in the Federal Register, update regulations of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act – two laws that have required federal contractors and subcontractors to affirmatively recruit, hire, train and promote qualified veterans, and people with disabilities.
“Unfortunately, the laws haven’t always worked as intended,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez wrote in a blog post. “People with disabilities, who have an enormous contribution to make to our economy, and veterans, who have risked life and limb on our behalf, are still disproportionately represented among the unemployed and those out of the workforce entirely.”
More specifically, the modifications to VEVRAA provide contractors with new metrics to quantify their success in recruiting and employing veterans. The new rules require contractors to annually adopt a benchmark based on the national percentage of veterans in the workforce (currently 8 percent), or develop their own benchmark based on the best available data.
Modifications to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act create a hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors that seven percent of each job group in their workforce be qualified individuals with disabilities. The rules also require contractors to document and update data on the number of disabled individuals who apply for and are hired for jobs. The hope is that these increased metrics will help contractors assess the effectiveness of their outreach and recruitment efforts.
Sherman Gillums Jr., associate executive director of veterans benefits for Paralyzed Veterans of America, applauded the new rules but cautioned that any jobs offered to veterans under the rules should offer positive career prospects that are guarded from budget cuts and sequestration.
The effectiveness of the rules also will rest on whether contractors fully abide by them, said Susan Prokop, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans.
“It’s important that federal contractors abide by both the letter and spirit of the new rules by recruiting and hiring individuals for all types of positions at all levels of responsibility,” Prokop said, adding that contractors should connect with Paralyzed Veterans’ Operation PAVE, or Paving Access to Veteran Employment – a vocational assistance program for disabled veterans – “to assure themselves of access to first rate, solid talent.”
The rules will become effective 180 days after their publication in the Federal Register.
Learn more about Operation PAVE
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.