Cornell University

January 18 2011

Beyond Yellow Ribbons

ILR studies readiness of employers to hire, accommodate and retain veterans with disabilities

Hannah RudstamAs Iraq and Afghanistan veterans transition into civilian life with newly-acquired disabilities, many employers are not quite ready to recruit, hire and accommodate these returning soldiers, according to a study led by Senior Extension Associate Hannah Rudstam of ILR.

Few of the 1,000-plus employers surveyed were fully geared to recruit, hire and accommodate veterans with service-related disabilities, said Rudstam, who works in the Northeast Americans with Disabilities Act Center at ILR.

"Though employers indicated having good will in this area and did see some benefits in employing veterans with disabilities, they were struggling to translate this good will into solid recruiting, hiring and accommodation practices," she said.

"Do employers have the knowledge, commitments and practices in place to enable veterans to fully contribute their talents and skills in the workplace?" Only a fraction of respondents were aware of resources available for recruiting and accommodating veterans with disabilities, she said.

Likewise, few of the employers surveyed are familiar with today's most prevalent veteran disabilities -- post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury – according to the study, "Recruiting Veterans with Disabilities: Perceptions in the Workplace."

The study was conducted by the Northeast Americans with Disabilities Act Center – located at ILR's Employment and Disability Institute – in collaboration with the National Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va.

It assessed employer readiness to recruit, hire, accommodate and sustain employment for veterans with disabilities.

Ten-thousand human resource professionals were invited to participate; 1,083 from for-profit, not-for-profit, public and private organizations responded.

Preliminary findings from employer responses included:

  • Two to three percent used specific resources to recruit veterans with disabilities
  • 27 to 30 percent are unsure about or did not agree with specific benefits -- such as improved customer relations -- of hiring veterans with disabilities
  • 85 percent are unfamiliar with traumatic brain injury, often an unseen disability
  • 60 percent are unfamiliar with post-traumatic stress disorder, often an unseen disability
  • Six percent have experience accommodating workers with post traumatic stress disorder
  • Two percent have experience accommodating workers with traumatic brain injury
  • 73 percent incorrectly believe the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, not the Americans with Disabilities Act, is the main law covering veterans with disabilities in the workplace
  • 65 percent incorrectly believe veteran applicants must tell potential employers about their disabilities.

"Good will alone may not be enough to make this issue a priority for employers or to sustain employers’ attention long enough to wade through the myriad of existing resources," Rudstam said.

"Employers must be met half way with solutions and resources that are designed for real-time, real-world actions -- actions that will enable them to build effectiveness in recruiting, accommodating and coaching veterans with disabilities in their work force. Yellow ribbons will not be enough," she said.

The Northeast Americans with Disabilities Act Center, part of a 10-site national network, is located in Dolgen Hall at ILR's Employment and Disability Institute.

It provides free information and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted 20 years ago, to employees, employers and others regionally and nationally.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the center serves New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Center staff can be contacted at 1-800-949-4232 or at