VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association was founded in 1946 by a determined group of paralyzed WWII veterans in New York City who advocated for greater civil rights and independence for themselves and their fellow veterans.  Aiming to continue this grand tradition of self-advocacy, VetsFirst has released a new Knowledge Book, Disabled Veterans Employment and Education: Gearing up for Your Future.  The guide is chock full of information on: creating a path to employment; choosing school as a path to employment; understanding and defining disability; and self-advocacy: knowing your rights and responsibilities.

In Section 5 we learn the importance of being a self-advocate at work, at school, and in your personal life so you can remain connected to education, the workforce, and your community.

Self-Advocacy at School – If you notify a school about your disability, the school may be required to provide academic adjustments or reasonable accommodations.  Accommodations may include (but are not limited to): 1) Extending time on examinations, 2) Providing exams in alternate format (If appropriate to subject matter), or 3) Providing a note taker or allowing a note taking device for class.

Self-Advocacy at Work – Just as with school, you will need to disclose that you have a disability in order for your employer to provide a reasonable accommodation for any disability-related problems you may be having at work.  You can use “plain English” to make your request and you do not have use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” or disclose your specific disability.  You can refer to a medical condition. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) can be helpful in thinking through available accommodations.

Self-Advocacy Resources in Your Community – Centers for Independent Living can provide advocacy, information and referral, peer counseling, and more.  Vet Centers can offer employment screening and health-related referrals.  VSOs can provide assistance with not only benefits and VA claims, but also advocacy, career counseling, mentorship, temporary financial assistance, family support networks, advice on medical issues and much, much more.

Staying Healthy – While not often considered a strategy for finding work or attending school, keeping yourself healthy and proactively accessing the resources available to you for healthcare (both physical and mental health) is a responsibility you have to yourself and your family.  The VA has developed a Veterans Health Benefits Guide and Vet Centers offer readjustment counseling and a wide range of psychosocial services offered to eligible veterans and their families.

Some Basic Tips for Self-Advocacy to get you started:  Know and understand your rights and responsibilities; Learn all you can about your disability, needs, strengths, and limitations; Know what accommodations you need as well as why you need them; Know how to effectively/assertively communicate your needs and preferences; Find out who the key people are and how to contact them if necessary; Be willing to ask questions when something is unclear or you need clarification

Check out Section 6 of the Knowledge Book for a list and links to Resources as well as Guiding Questions to help you through the process.

As always, remember to Ask VetsFirst if you have questions or feedback.

Carol Tyson
VetsFirst Policy Associate