Ten Tips for Families: Supporting a Veteran with a Disability Returning to Work

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A veteran with a disability has a lot to offer in the civilian workplace: skills, discipline, teamwork, resilience and courage. Your loved one’s talents, skills, passions and aspirations matter now as much as they ever did. A key challenge for any veteran with a disability is to underestimate your value.

1.  Work as part of the healing process.

Work isn’t just about money. It’s also about getting back to civilian life, about meeting people and about applying the skills and experiences learned in the military. Returning to work can be part of the healing process.

2.  Working and benefits

Veterans with disabilities have rights, services and resources to support them in the transition to the civilian workforce. Laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state laws protect the rights of veterans with disabilities who wish to return to work. Also, there are a variety of resources for family members supporting a veteran with disabilities returning to civilian work life. Learn about the benefits your loved one is eligible for from the Veterans Administration, the Social Security Administration Ticket to Work program, and the Military Advantage, A Monster Company.

3. Can families of veterans take work leave to care for a family member with a service- related disability?

Yes. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), family members of veterans with service-related disabilities can take leave from work to deal with this issue. New FMLA provisions expand the law to include work leave related to deployment and service-related disabilities. The Department of Labor has enhanced the leave available to veterans and military caregivers. For more information, go to the FMLA Final Rule to Implement Statutory Amendments.

4. Telling others about a disability when applying for a job: It’s your loved one’s legally protected choice.

People with disabilities do not have to tell a potential employer about a disability when applying for a job. This is the case even if they think they might need an accommodation once on the job. This is true for any kind of disability, including conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Veterans who decide they don’t want to tell about their disability when they apply for a job are not “lying.” They are exercising a legally protected choice. 

5. Telling about a disability: Making a decision that’s right for your loved one.

Before applying for a job, help your loved one decide about telling a potential employer about a disability. Some choose not to tell about their disability. They might think the disability doesn’t impact the job. They might worry that they won’t be considered fairly for the job or that a potential employer will not understand. Others might decide they do want to tell a potential employer about their disability. They might want to discuss their needs on the job or simply want to avoid surprises after they get hired. Help your loved one think through a decision that’s right for them. For more information, go to the Job Accommodation Network’s “Disclosure” information page.

6. Reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

People with disabilities have a right to a reasonable accommodation when applying for a job and when working. An accommodation is any change in the work environment or in how things are usually done that enables a worker with a disability to work and do the essential functions of a job. Needing an accommodation does not mean your family member cannot do the job. It’s just a different way to get the job done.

Examples of accommodations employers might provide include changing a work space so that it is wheelchair accessible or changing the work schedule. To see examples of accommodations a veteran with a disability may need, see question 8 of the “Veterans and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Guide for Employers.” 

7. Does our family have to pay for this accommodation?

No. Accommodations at work are provided by the employer.

8. Think through the accommodations your family member might need.

When it comes to accommodations, no one size fits all. Even veterans with the same condition might need different types of accommodations depending on their job, their situation and the duration of their disability. Help your family member think about how his or her condition could impact job tasks. Find out different accommodations at The Job Accommodations Network’s “Accommodation Information by Disability: A to Z.”

9. Getting an accommodation on the job is not a weakness or “special favor.”

Needing an accommodation does not mean a person is unqualified for the job. An employer cannot punish or fire an employee because he or she asks for an accommodation. If your family member is working with a disability, she or he should consider asking for an accommodation before the disability impacts job performance.

An accommodation is not a special favor or a sign of weakness; it is a legally protected right. For more information, go to the Job Accommodation Network’s “Employees' Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act .”

10. Myths about workers with disabilities — don’t buy into them!

Studies show that employees with disabilities perform as well on the job as any other employee. They may just do things a little differently. For more information, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Myths and Facts about Workers with Disabilities.”

Content was developed by the Northeast Center, and is based on professional consensus of ADA experts and the ADA National Network.

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The contents of this factsheet were developed under grants from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant numbers 90DP0088 and 90DP0086). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this factsheet do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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