Investing in the American Dream – Securing a Good Job at a Good Company

man in wheelchair speaking on the phone“In the old days when people became disabled, they stayed at home. Now there’s an expectation you’re going to go out and be productive.”

That’s how Sue Mandry, vice president of Beneficiary and Government Relations at Health Net Federal Services, explained why her company became one of the first sponsors of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) Vocational Rehabilitation Program.

The program helps veterans with catastrophic disabilities and their families develop the skills they need to compete in the job market and matches them with businesses with vacancies. Begun in 2007, it’s an innovative public-private partnership with business, the federal government and philanthropy. The program has helped almost 850 veterans with disabilities seek and find satisfying employment through its six offices located at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country.

Marjie Shahami, chief executive officer at QTC Medical Services, said her company supports Paralyzed Veterans’ Vocational Rehabilitation Program because advances in medical care have helped a growing number of injured service members survive major traumatic events, such as catastrophic injuries from the frequently used improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With technology, they’re coming home even if they have serious injuries,” she explained. “After they come home, they need help to get back on track. What better way to help if not through (Paralyzed Veterans’) Vocational Rehabilitation Program?”

The Vocational Rehabilitation Program has had many successes, such as Chris Sullivan, who survived a sniper attack while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Through the program, Sullivan, a Paralyzed Veterans’ member, found satisfying employment helping other veterans. He now works for a member of the House of Representatives.

Rich Brooks, vice president for Logistics Operations at Agility Defense & Government Operations, said the bleak employment picture for veterans with catastrophic disabilities is why his company has contributed nearly $1 million for the vocational rehabilitation program through sponsorship of Paralyzed Veterans’ Golf Open.  

“To me, it’s unfathomable that more than 85 percent of our veterans who’ve been catastrophically wounded are unemployed,” he said. “My company can’t do much for improving their (VA) benefits, and we can’t do much about improving their medical care, but as a corporation we can do something about the employment rates.”

These three Paralyzed Veterans supporters agree that investing in vocational rehabilitation not only helps veterans with disabilities, but the companies who hire them as well. Veterans have important skills that companies seek, such as a strong work ethic and commitment to teamwork. Less recognized, according to Shahami, Mandry and Brooks, is that veterans who have survived life-changing injuries bring another prized skill to the table: grit.

“(Health Net) has an appreciation for the courage it takes to complete the rehabilitation journey,” Mandry said.

Brooks agreed. “Side by side, all things being equal, that’s a no-brainer for hiring the veteran (with disabilities). “Now you have a guy in a wheelchair who has demonstrated his ability to work through any adversity.”

Shahami said she appreciates all the companies that have joined hers in supporting Paralyzed Veterans’ Vocational Rehabilitation Program, and urged others to do so. She said that together companies can help tackle the national issue of unemployment and underemployment of veterans with disabilities.

“It can be brought down, and should be brought down,” she said. “We have to participate in making that happen.” 

Patrick McCallister is a reporter in Florida and frequent contributor to PN Magazine.


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    Investing in the American Dream – Securing a Good Job at a Good Company