Joint Base Lewis-McChord has received national recognition from the AbilityOne Program for its role in contracting with nonprofit agencies that employ significantly disabled people.The Mission and Installation Contracting Command Director Pamela Munoz will accept the 2010 AbilityOne/National Institute for the Severely Handicapped National Achievement Government Award for Services: Military in May at the NISH national conference in Orlando, Fla.The AbilityOne Program is a federal initiative to help people who are blind or have other severe disabilities find employment by working for nonprofit agencies that sell products and services to the U.S. government. AbilityOne is the largest source of employment for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities in the United States, according to the AbilityOne website. AbilityOne works with the NISH, a national nonprofit agency designed to create federal contracting employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities, according to the NISH website. NISH contractors are completing about 10 of the more than 250 ongoing contracts at JBLM, but quantity isn't the important factor - it's the number of service-disabled veterans who are employed, she said. More than 400 people with significant disabilities are employed through four NISH contracts, and a large majority of these are veterans.Some of the major NISH contracts include the maintenance and operations of the first sergeants barracks, maintenance of the chemical latrines found throughout the training ranges, the operation of the Central Issue Facility (where Soldiers' gear is dispensed), the cleaning staff at base dining facilities and the maintenance for wheeled vehicles. According to Munoz, the wheeled vehicle contract is the only one of its kind in the Army. "The support from NISH contractors here on (base) significantly impacts the Soldier (and Airman) and the quality of service they provide, making our lives easier," Munoz said.The two major NISH contractors used on base are Skookum Contract Services and Professional Contract Services, Inc. These two nonprofit agencies go out of their way to hire service-disabled veterans, she said. Veterans, like other people with disabilities, aren't necessarily going to be in wheelchairs or have physical disabilities; their conditions could be behavioral, as veterans can be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or physical, having suffered a traumatic brain injury. NISH contractors ensure their employees have the time and ability to get to doctors appointments, Munoz said.More than 60 percent of people with severe disabilities are unemployed, according to the Ability One website. By having NISH contracts at JBLM, that number can be greatly reduced for Pierce County, Munoz said. "It's a win-win for everybody; it's a win for the installation because we get superior contract performance, and it's a win for the people with disabilities because they have the opportunity to compete for a job," she said. "As we have been successful bringing more contracts on board at JBLM employing people with disabilities, more people are starting to understand that people with disabilities can do these jobs."The future for more opportunities for NISH contracts is looking bright. Munoz said that MICC has started working on procuring a new contract to support aircraft services at McChord Field. Yakima Training Center may also receive a NISH contract for range operations and maintenance. "We are still working new projects with NISH to continue our reputation of supporting AbilityOne and people with disabilities," the director said.A veteran who also will be recognized for his achievements is Bret DiFrancesco, a maintenance worker with PCSI. The award recognizes a veteran with a significant disability who has exhibited outstanding achievement in his or her work life.DiFrancesco told the Northwest Guardian he was surprised at the award and considered himself no different despite his disability.Lorin T. Smith: lorin.smith@nwguardian.com