By Jonathan Young, Chairman, National Council on Disability (NCD), with the assistance of Lonnie Moore, Member, National Council on Disability
On Sunday, June 3, Lonnie Moore and I had the honor of joining Arizona Center for Disability Law Executive Director Peri Jude Radecic, Deputy Executive Director Ed Myers and J.J. Rico, Member of the Arizona Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Council, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Lonnie and I represent the coming together of the Veterans community and the disability community. He is a disabled Iraq War Veteran and I am a civilian who is partially paralyzed as the result of a spinal cord injury.
While it might not be obvious at first glance, a brief review of history shows that disability issues and Veterans issues are intertwined; that Veterans issues are disability issues. The history of Americans with disabilities and returning Veterans reveals much common ground.
Some of the first attempts to guarantee rights and services for people with disabilities were sparked by WWI Veterans seeking needed supports after returning from the war. Following the “Great War,” the National Defense Act, the Smith-Hughes Act and the Soldier’s Rehabilitation Act were among the first legislative attempts to establish vocational services for disabled Veterans as the nation acknowledged an obligation to support soldiers injured in service to our nation.
In 1920, the Citizen’s Rehabilitation Act recognized the common ground of disabled citizens and injured Veterans by expanding vocational guidance and placement services to include all Americans with physical disabilities.
During World War II, the sudden shortage of skilled workers provided an unprecedented opportunity for people with disabilities to gain employment in vacant jobs. When the war ended, however, many workers with disabilities who supported the war effort at home found themselves again unemployed as large numbers of non-disabled soldiers returned to work in civilian jobs.
Congress pursued policy-based solutions designed to meet the needs of civilians with disabilities and disabled Veterans following the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, always trying to meet the specific needs of those who served in each war and the disabilities they acquired in doing so. The same has been true for soldiers returning from recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.
NCD’s recent forum on acquired disabilities “Common Ground,” held at UCLA on June 8, brought together disabled Veterans and civilians alike for a day of panel discussions, presentations and discussions to examine the best ways to design and implement practical solutions for the concerns our communities have going forward. As history has shown, the more our communities can support one another and work cooperatively, the better. Each group grows stronger when we’re together.
All Americans owe a great debt to those who have served this country – especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns is more than symbolic. It acknowledges the interconnected past of American civilians and Veterans with disabilities by honoring the important collaborations and coordinated efforts that have ensured protections our fallen warriors, in part, fought and died for.
Remembering the sacrifices of the past reminds us of the responsibility shared by every American – including people with disabilities – as we work toward a more fair, equitable and inclusive future for all.
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Jonathan M. Young, Ph.D., is the Chairman of the National Council on Disability, which is a Senate-confirmed Presidential appointment. He is Partner and General Counsel at FoxKiser, a firm specializing in strategic collaboration and counseling in law, science and medicine – and was the co-founder and former Chair of the Committee on Disability Power & Pride.
Lonnie Moore is a Member of the National Council on Disability and currently serves as a Program Analyst for the Army Warrior Transition Office, where he writes policy and makes recommendations to improve care and transition for wounded and ill soldiers. He also serves as the Western Chair for the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Service Members and Families Council. Mr. Moore was combat-wounded in Iraq, where he led more than 60 combat missions.