Veterans receive additional protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act

While many disabled Service members and Veterans are aware of programs and benefits they receive from the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), they might not be aware that they also qualify for additional protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

As a civil rights law, the ADA has different, more inclusive standards than the VA and defines a disability more expansively as, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Even if you do not consider yourself as “disabled,” you are protected if you meet this definition of disability. It covers most any type of serious injury received in the line of duty, including a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, hearing or vision loss or post-traumatic stress disorder.

As a result of amendments made to the ADA in 2008, it is now much easier to qualify for protection under the law. For example, the term “major life activities” includes not only daily activities such as walking, seeing, hearing and concentrating, but also the operation of major bodily functions such as the functions of the brain and the neurological system. In addition, whether or not a major life activity is “substantially limited” does not depend on whether the impairment’s effects can be managed or mitigated with medication, assistive devices, etc. In addition, conditions that are episodic, such as epilepsy, or in remission, are considered disabilities if they would be substantially limiting when active.

In particular, Veterans seeking employment should review the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s online pamphlet, “Understanding Your Employment Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Veterans.” Title I of the ADA makes it illegal for an employer to treat an applicant or employee unfavorably in all aspects of employment—including hiring, promotion, job assignments, training, termination, and any other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment—because of a disability, history of a disability, or because the employer regards an individual as having a disability. This means, for example, that an employer is prohibited from refusing to hire a Veteran because he or she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), was previously diagnosed with PTSD, or because the employer assumes he or she has PTSD.

The ADA also places limits on the medical information employers may obtain, and prohibits disability-based harassment and retaliation.

Finally, the ADA requires that, absent any significant difficulty or expense to the employer (referred to as “undue hardship”), applicants and employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation to apply for jobs, perform their jobs, and to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment, such as having access to the parts of an employer’s facility available to other employees and access to employer-sponsored training and social events. According to the ADA’s guide for returning Service members with disabilities, examples of reasonable accommodations include:
  • Flexible schedules so an employee can attend counseling sessions and/or medical appointments
  • Providing information, instructions and assignments in small steps, or providing an on-site job coach, for employees with brain injuries
  • Specialized equipment such as a one-handed keyboard, a large-key keyboard, a touch pad, trackball or speech recognition software
  • Allowing for more frequent work breaks
  • Modifying desk arrangements, such as raising an office desk or providing specialized chairs
These same standards for non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation apply to the Federal Executive Branch and the United States Postal Service. More information can be found on the EEOC’s website at www.eeoc.gov. The Disability Law Lowdown podcast goes over the EEOC fact sheet about Veterans with service-connected disabilities in the workplace and the ADA.

Whether you are a new or long-time Veteran, knowing your rights and protections is an important step to succeeding in your civilian life.