Dealing With Disabilities in the Job Search

By Sarah Landrum

While dealing with the VA is seldom a pleasure for veterans, trying to get a disability rating can be especially frustrating. Currently, 45 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are seeking disability claims. That’s more than 700,000 people. With so many people in line, it’s easy to see why the average wait time for receiving a disability rating is around two years. Given how long the process takes, it’s important to file your claim as soon as possible, and keep looking for work in the meantime.

Filing a Disability Claim

The VA has recently put in place a new, standardized process for filing disability claims. The new system allows you to file your claim online through eBenefits rather than dealing with more complicated physical paperwork.

In order to speed up the process somewhat, you can submit a fully developed claim. This means including all relevant documents with your initial claim filing. The most important part is your medical records, both military and civilian. Anything remotely related to your disability claim should be included. If you have dependents, you will also likely need your marriage certificate if applicable as well as the birth certificates or adoption records of any children.

The VA can get these records for you if you don’t have access to them, but submitting a fully developed claim removes that part of the process, making it faster to resolve your disability filing. At the moment, submitting a fully developed claim will save you about 20 days compared to a normal one.

Finding a Job

Finding a job is always difficult, but it can be significantly harder when you have a disability. For experienced candidates, employers were shown to be 34 percent less likely to take interest in a potential employee if a disability was mentioned in the cover letter.

Fortunately, there are resources you can use to increase your chances of finding a veteran-friendly employer. The VA maintains a Veterans Job Bank that can help you translate what you learned in the military to a civilian career, as well as show you relevant job opportunities from across the country.

There are also a number of military-specific job boards available. Sites such as Corporate Gray and VetCentral can help you broaden your search, since these sites often draw from different sources and may not include the same jobs.

Depending on your skillset, you may also want to look into civilian government jobs or positions with DoD contractors. Military experience is often highly valued in these areas, which may give you a leg up on the competition despite your disability. Many of these jobs also require a security clearance. Given how long it can take to be cleared, those who already have clearance will have a huge advantage.

Once you’ve discovered one or more jobs you want to apply for, you’ll need to find a good way to highlight your skills and experience. Your military experience is a great asset, but only if you know how to present it. Soft skills such as communication and leadership are often used to help companies differentiate between similarly qualified candidates, and your experience in the military may serve as evidence of your skills in these areas. You can also leverage your training to serve as a guarantee of certain other qualities which employers often look for, such as punctuality, work ethic and discipline.

While you undoubtedly have a significant amount of valuable experience from which to draw, there are also several potential pitfalls you must avoid, especially when conducting interviews. Depending on the interviewer, war stories may or may not go over well. If you want to highlight an experience you had while deployed, it’s often best to discuss that experience in broad strokes, avoiding going into too much detail.

You should also make an effort to avoid using military jargon when being interviewed. Terms and language that the interviewer isn’t familiar with can make the interviewer feel less connected with you, making it difficult to communicate. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Just spelling out military abbreviations such as FOB and CO can make a difference with regard to how your interviewer perceives you. Even those little changes can help you get a job.

While trying to find work on top of applying for disability benefits can be a long and frustrating process, being prepared and understanding what you need to do in order to succeed can at least make things easier, if not faster. While the VA is using the advantages of the new system to work toward clearing the large backlog of claims, there are still tens of thousands of people that have been waiting for months, so no matter how well your claim is put together, you’re in for a long wait.

About the Author
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and founder of Punched Clocks. Coming from a military family, Sarah is passionate about helping veterans find and succeed in a civilian career. Follow Sarah for more advice on career development @SarahLandrum

Other Job Search Articles:
Civilian Employment-Seeking Tips for Veterans with PTSD
Building Your Personal Brand for Your Military Transition
How to Research a Potential Employer
Conquering the Federal Employment Battle

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