Every year, American military personnel end their term of active duty and seek out or return to civilian employment. Understanding which labor laws apply to them can be extremely confusing, and even more so if an individual incurred a debilitating injury while in service. There are two laws that a disabled veteran needs to be familiar with: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) act and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
According to the United States Department of Labor, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) “seeks to ensure that those who serve their country can retain their civilian employment and benefits, and can seek employment free from discrimination because of their service. USERRA provides protection for disabled veterans, requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability.” Simply put, this act “helps protect veterans and trained military personnel from losing their jobs, should they be called back to action or into reserve service, even after they are no longer employed full-time within the U.S. military.”
The second law of importance to veterans with disabilities is the Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - a civil rights law enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This law prohibits private and state and local government employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and requires that they provide reasonable accommodations to these employees. It is a law with many conditions and complexities, all provided to ensure that discrimination is avoided and that employment opportunities are provided for veterans.
Further Benefits & Reentering the Workforce
In addition to the protections afforded by the USERRA and ADA laws, there are many special services available to wounded warriors. Disabled veterans can get assistance for healthcare, financial, and educational benefits (GI Bill) and quite a bit more. Organizations like MilitaryOneSource keeps an updated list of these benefits in addition to information of specialty consultation services, military branch-specific wounded warrior programs, housing assistance, and military relief organizations.
Aside from being protected from federal laws, it should be helpful for veterans to know that there are many companies that make it a point to hire and provide special benefits for veterans. This can help ease the burden of living with an injury and may even help them to reenter the workforce sooner. Some of the companies include The Home Depot, Intel, UPS, Dupont, and USAA. MilitaryBenefits provides an annual list of Veteran Jobs with Military Friendly Employers to help locate opportunities.
Finding employment is one thing for veterans – and maybe the easiest. Returning to or entering the civilian workforce is another. Vets often find that it’s hard to translate their military skills to non-military jobs. This can cause misunderstandings and stress once employed. One particular benefit afforded to veterans to help with this situation is the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) – a reverse bootcamp of sorts that educates departing troops on job skills, veteran’s benefits, and personal finances.
Legally, accommodations should have been made to provide a suitable workplace for anyone who is a veteran with a disability. Though care and attention to details have been taken in these accommodations, this doesn’t mean that a worker is immune to any further injury while at work. As with non-disabled employees, workplace accidents and injuries can occur. If a veteran is injured in a work-related situation in the civilian workforce, it’s important they understand their rights.
Possibly even more necessary is that veterans are aware of and understand the many areas that workers’ compensation can cover. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that has different policy requirements determined by the state or states a company does business in. Workers’ compensation is provided to give relief to the injured party, typically by covering some medical expenses, missed wages, costs associated with ongoing care, and other short-term benefits. In order to receive workers’ compensation benefits in a timely manner, veterans need to be familiar with how that system works and ensure that they avoid mistakes in filing for assistance.
If a workplace injury is severe and necessitates a total ceasing of work activity, an individual may need to then file for Social Security disability benefits. For injured workers seeking to further a Social Security disability claim, the good news is that claims initiated by veterans are being expedited through the process, though, according to P.I.S.S.D., this “process does not apply to veterans with a 100% Permanent and Total disability rating for non-service connected pension benefits.”
Getting a Normal Life Back After a Work-Related Injury
As with non-military workers, getting things back to normal can be a real challenge for a veteran. A person who was injured in the workplace is required to see specific company-approved doctors, adhere to health protocols handed out by those physicians, and then fill out many forms relating to the various aspects of what is happening as they are on the road to recovery. While the individual may be attempting to follow all the necessary steps required of them, the employer’s insurance company is certainly looking for ways to deny any claim made against them. For the disabled vet, this may come down to the insurance company trying to claim that the injury is the result of a pre-existing condition.
With any type of workplace disability claim, there is always a chance that the injured party may need to consult an attorney for assistance.
In the case or a disabled veteran, this consultation may be even more of a necessity, as allowing an attorney to represent them, especially when it comes to disproving that the new injury was pre-existing, can ensure that their claims are processed professionally, properly and in a timely manner with as little added stress as possible.
Ghostwritten for online publication.