The harsh, unintended consequences of war can mean debilitating injuries for service members. Wounded warriors can endure a variety of service-related injuries, such as missing limbs, burns, or spinal cord injuries. Other injuries are less obvious, such as hearing loss, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, roughly 25 percent of recent veterans will have a service-related disability. Upon returning home, veterans with disabilities face a staggering unemployment rate: 16 percent cannot find work. Despite federal laws protecting veterans with disabilities from discrimination―the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act―many find themselves struggling with societal misperceptions and stigmas when seeking new employment. For some it’s a case of needing simple job accommodations for their disability. For others, it’s dispelling the myth that veterans with disabilities can no longer work the same way as someone without a disability.
SourceAmerica, whose mission is to create and expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities, is preparing to launch a four-month, paid internship program designed to assist veterans with disabilities in reentering the workforce. Beginning Dec. 1, 2015, eight veterans with disabilities will work at SourceAmerica’s headquarters and Washington, D.C. field office in areas such as graphic design, program management, and ethics and compliance. Staff mentors will also serve to facilitate the interns’ growth and success throughout the program.
SourceAmerica’s Denise Perka, who manages the veteran intern program, has high hopes for the program moving forward.
“The goal this year is to have a successful internship program and work out any kinks before expanding the program to all SourceAmerica locations,” said Perka.
To assist in the selection of eligible candidates, SourceAmerica tapped members of its 1,200-member network of nonprofit agencies to locate veterans with disabilities whose skill sets and educational backgrounds met SourceAmerica’s business needs. These nonprofit agencies also provided input into the design of the internship curriculum, which includes additional skill-based business training.
“We hope that their participation in the program, combined with onsite business training, will empower them to be successful in their careers and achieve the job of their dreams,” said Ana Rodriguez, SourceAmerica director of training.
Supporting this internship is foundational for SourceAmerica, which connects its network of more than 1,200 community-based nonprofit agencies that employ people with disabilities with federal and non-federal contracting needs. Federal opportunities are available through the AbilityOne Program―the single largest source of employment for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Additionally, 54 veterans are employed by SourceAmerica, and it’s a cause of great importance to SourceAmerica’s President and CEO Steve Soroka.
“As a veteran myself, I believe we owe it to those who served to provide meaningful employment opportunities after service is completed,” said Soroka. “Through the AbilityOne Program, SourceAmerica has helped secure employment for nearly 3,000 veterans. Our veteran intern program will continue to build on that success.”