By Ms. Kari Hawkins (AMCOM)September 10, 2015
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Sept. 10, 2015) -- From the war zone to the workplace, the nation's wounded warriors are ready to serve.
They did so, first, on the battlefield, where they suffered the physical or mental damage caused by war. Now, they are looking for ways to serve their nation in the workforce.
Yet, it's not always easy for employers to accommodate wounded warriors because injuries - such as the loss of an arm or leg, blindness or post-traumatic stress disorder - can limit abilities or require expensive technology assistance.
But, one employer, which has employed the legally blind, visually impaired or otherwise disabled for 75 years, has taken on the mission to employ the nation's wounded warriors.
Since 2012, the AbilityOne Program's Industries for the Blind, with the support of the Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Department of the Army, and the Army's warrior transition battalions, has helped wounded warriors achieve post-military success in the civilian workforce through employment with the Wounded Warrior Supply Program.
"About seven years ago, during a meeting at the Department of Defense, we discussed how the wounded warrior transition battalions were beginning to stand up. We knew that for these battalions to be successful with transitioning these wounded warriors we would need an organization that would employ them," said Dr. David Godbold, national director of the Wounded Warrior Supply Program.
"Wounded warriors need meaningful employment. They need to be treated as employees by employers. And, then need jobs that provide insurance."
Godbold spoke about the Wounded Warrior Supply Program during an Aviation and Missile Command Logistics Center supervisor's meeting, Aug. 31. He hopes that Team Redstone organizations will shop with the Wounded Warrior Supply Program online for office and work supplies that are not available through the Redstone Base Supply Center.
With 148 military base supply centers, 671 business partners, and a congressional requirement that makes the federal government its number one customer, teaming up to include a wounded warrior employment program with AbilityOne's Industries for the Blind made sense.
Industries for the Blind is the largest employer of blind and handicapped employees in the world, Godbold said, and because of that, the nonprofit agency knows what types of assistive technologies are available to assist the blind or handicapped in the workplace. Under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act, government purchase card holders and federal employees are required to purchase supplies from an AbilityOne nonprofit agency as long as the supplies are available.
As a result of the partnership with AbilityOne's Industries for the Blind, the Wounded Warrior Supply Program, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, employs wounded warriors to provide support for an online supply program that provides access to SKILCRAFT and other AbilityOne products ranging from office supplies to mission-critical gear - from office furniture to maintenance solutions. In addition, the program has 12 stores on military bases on the East or West Coasts, where wounded warriors can work and still remain close to Veterans Affairs, or VA, hospitals.
"Purchases made through the Wounded Warrior Supply Program benefit wounded warriors and keep them employed," Godbold said.
"The program sells everything from rock salt to melt ice on roads to medical supplies used by the Veterans Administration hospitals. We sell furniture, technology, paper, toner cartridges, safety gear and lots of other products. The key is we will source it. Let us find the item for you and sell the product to you."
Godbold knows he sounds like a salesman. But, he also knows he is selling for a good cause. He and his wife, Renee, have a passion for helping wounded warriors.
"We have dedicated our lives to this. It is absolutely our way of giving back to these veterans. We want to help wounded warriors. We want to be their voice for employment," he said.
"I've been to Fort Bragg [North Carolina] to Camp Lejeune [North Carolina] to meet with wounded warriors who have no arms or no legs, who have only one eye or some other kind of injury. It has been the most traumatic thing I've ever seen. It means everything to them to be able to be productive citizens, to have a job and a place where they work. For many, their spouses have left them, their kids can't handle the situation. They want to be in their communities, working and making a difference."
Currently, the Wounded Warrior Supply Program has about 6,000 wounded warriors employed. But, there are close to 12,000 wounded warriors, who have sent resumes to the program and estimates put the number of wounded warriors in the U.S. at 60,000, Godbold said.
Wounded warriors applicants go through the interview process before being placed into the program or with other companies wanting to hire wounded warriors.
"Many of our wounded warriors are between the ages of 18 and 28. We have to take care of these people for the next 40 or more years somehow. What better way to take care of them than to find them a job they can do and that can give them financial independence?" Godbold said.
According to Department of Labor statistics, the unemployment rate for wounded warriors rose to 19.7 percent in 2014. Of those unemployed, 59.3 percent cite mental or physical health reasons as the main reason for not actively looking for work. The top three factors making it difficult to obtain employment are mental health issues, 29.7 percent; not qualified/lack education, 22.1 percent and not physically capable, 20.9 percent.
In addition, Godbold said statistics show that more than half of veterans with service-related injuries have had difficulties re-adjusting to civilian life, 46 percent of disabled veterans who are not working say their impairment is to blame, 52 percent of seriously-injured veterans say the government has not properly addressed their concerns and 67 percent of post-9/11 Wounded Warriors are not satisfied with the level of government care.
"Proportionally, there are more disabling injuries in the post 9-11 era and more injuries leading to blindness than since the Civil War," Godbold said.
Many wounded warriors are highly-skilled, some with backgrounds in logistics, management and procurement. Besides those employed by the Wounded Warrior Supply Program, other wounded warriors take advantage of the Army's Wounded Warrior Program employment counseling to find jobs in their communities.
Because of those skills, the Wounded Warrior Supply Program is expanding its markets and services to provide more opportunities for wounded warriors, Godbold said, in areas such as contract management services and medical kitting.
The customer list is also growing, including such organizations as the National Guard units from 11 states that are now purchasing business products, tactical gear, mission-critical items and other items from the Wounded Warrior Supply Program.
John Smith, the recently named executive director of the Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle, or AMCOM, Logistics Center, told the supervisors in attendance that learning about the mission of the Wounded Warrior Supply Program is important to developing ways that AMCOM and other Army and government organizations and society as a whole can provide employment opportunities for the nation's wounded warriors.
"Think of the sacrifices these young men and women have accepted on behalf of this nation," he said. "They know that serving this country is not glamorous. We as a society owe it to them to care of them. They've sacrificed for us. Now it's time for us to sacrifice for them."