Disabled veterans prove to be more than just able employees
December 31, 2012
An operations and intelligence noncommissioned officer, Sgt. 1st Class Scott Barkalow, was part of a mounted patrol in Eastern Afghanistan in February 2003 when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Bleeding profusely, Barkalow's severed leg landed in his buddy's lap as his friend worked on saving his life. The reality of the moment and understanding that his leg was never coming back didn't set in right away for obvious reasons.
Fast forwarding to 2004, after numerous operations and hours of rehabilitation and physical therapy, Barkalow walked, with the help of prosthesis, into a new job with the federal government.
"I can give thanks to a lot of people and organizations associated with the U.S. Army for the speed to which I was able to go back to work," said Barkalow. "My grandfather had always told me a man's got two options in life, go to work or go to jail. I went back to work."
Barkalow, currently a security specialist intern with the Army Contracting Command's Deputy Chief of Staff Intelligence and Security G2, is one of more than 1,400 veterans working within the command and one of more than 22.7 million living veterans nationwide according to the Department of Veteran Affairs website.
According to the Department of Army Office Chief of Public Affairs website, approximately 130,000
Soldiers leave the Army each year. The Office of Personnel Management 2011 statistics show that almost one in four of 2.1 million federal employees is a veteran. Of those, more than one million federal jobs support the military.
Within ACC, that translates to more than one out of every five employees having served in the military. Barkalow fits inside the even smaller subcategory of disabled American veterans, one of about two dozen within ACC.
"Veterans are important within the federal government and especially in positions that support the military," said William Baxter, ACC Deputy Chief of Staff Human Capital G1. "They bring the knowledge and experience they received from the result of military training and performing the task and that translates into a valuable employee. They also have been on the receiving end of support from federal civilians and offer insight as to what uniformed military personnel expect from their civilian counterparts."
When applying for a government job, wounded veterans receive additional points because of their sacrifice to the nation but some prefer not to disclose their status publicly.
"It's a matter of personal preference," said one ACC disabled veteran who prefers to remain anonymous. "My disability is invisible and I want to keep it that way. To look at me you wouldn't
know I had a disability."
Whether they disclose their disabilities publicly or not, Baxter said wounded veterans bring skills
to the workplace that employers look for.
"The number of wounded warriors within the federal government, and working in general, is probably higher as many do not acknowledge their disability publicly," Baxter said. "It's a matter
of pride. Many want to be accepted for what they bring to the table, a strong work ethic and the ability to do the job. The last thing many of them want is get a job based on something other than their abilities."
Not all veterans with disabilities received their injuries on the battlefield. While playing intramural sports, U.S. Air Force Maj. Alfort Belin III, lost sight in his right eye after a violent collision.
"The impact broke my orbital and facial bones, and I was knocked unconscious. When I awoke, my vision was lost in my right eye. It's diagnosed as optic nerve trauma," said Belin. "I've had surgery and plenty of rehabilitation until they finally diagnosed my vision loss was permanent and medically retired me."
Now a civilian procurement analyst with the 414th Contracting Support Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, Belin said he relishes the opportunity to continue serving his country and helping to mold the leaders of tomorrow.
"I was very lucky in finding a position with the Army," Belin said. "Focusing on wounded warriors
who can lead, manage, multi-task, and become an instant impact on an organization is an asset in any agency. There are a lot of wounded warriors like myself that loved to serve our country but are no longer medically fit to do so. Hiring a wounded warrior gives the warrior a sense of pride in serving the country in a different capacity."