Inspirational speaker addresses challenges, opportunities for individuals with disabilities
October 30, 2009
By Lori Newman
- National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme is "Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation."
- L. Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs was guest speaker.
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, U.S. Army South hosted a program Oct. 20 for a large crowd of Soldiers, civilians and veterans at Army Community Service.
"The number of individuals with severe disabilities working in government has dropped every year since 1994. Today individuals with severe disabilities represent only one percent of the total population working in government workforce," said Col. Mary Garr, commander, U.S. Army Garrison, who provided opening remarks for the event. "We can do better, and we must do better."
"To address these alarming statistics the Army has established an employment goal of two percent representation of individuals with severe disabilities by next year," Garr said.
According to the Library of Congress Web site, the effort to educate people about issues related to disabilities and employment began in 1945, when Congress enacted Public Law 176, declaring the first week of October as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.
In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs of individuals with all types of disabilities. Twenty-five years later, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
This year's theme is "Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation."
"This is a month that is not just about the disabled, it's about progress, hope and determination," said L. Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs, and guest speaker at the event.
As a major in the Illinois Army National Guard, Duckworth served as an assistant operations officer and flew combat missions as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. She was severely injured in Iraq in 2004 when a rocket propelled grenade stuck the helicopter she was co-piloting. As a result of the attack, Duckworth lost both her legs and partial use of one arm.
Duckworth said when she woke up at Walter Reed she was unable to move a single part of her body and thought, "My life will never be the same."
"Life becomes a new 'normal,'" she said. "You can get back as much as you need to get back and the military will be there with you to help you."
"So many of our comrades are coming home with devastating injuries," said Duckworth. "It will take a lot of time, patience and mental strength for them to cope with their disabilities and adjust to their new lifestyles."
Our Soldiers should not have to worry about being cared for if they are injured, she said. "The VA's budget will increase by 25 billion dollars over five years, the largest increase in 30 years."
Duckworth discussed expanded eligibility for veterans to the VA health care system, virtual lifetime electronic records access, improved access for female veterans and the commitment of the VA to end homelessness among veterans. She answered questions from the audience, and encouraged veterans to sign up for VA health care even if they don't need its services and benefits right now.
Prior to speaking, Duckworth toured the Center for the Intrepid and had lunch with wounded warriors from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Brooke Army Medical Center.
"It is important to recognize the contributions, skills and talents of individuals with disabilities. Not just during this designated month but throughout the year," said Garr.