Soldiers & Disabilities

  • Posted on December 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

If you’ll recall, when the wars first got going, there was a significant amount of attention paid in the U.S. media to the needs of soldiers who had children with disabilities. Programs were created. Problems were solved. Families were taken care of while soldiers went off to war.

Now, as our soldiers are returning from those wars, there is a significant amount of attention being paid to the needs of soldiers who have acquired disabilities while in service to our country. Some of these disabilities are physical in nature. Others are psychological or mental-emotional in nature. Some are both. Programs are being created. Problems are being solved. Our soldiers are being taken care of.

One could easily argue that we, as a nation, don’t do enough for our soldiers. I agree, but that’s not my point.

Both times, people with disabilities and people who had children with disabilities, people in the general population, were hopeful that the experiences of these soldiers would translate to more awareness, more support, and more help for people with disabilities who are citizens but not soldiers. Both times, people have been woefully disappointed. Before now, I never got why these incidents of increased awareness were never generalized.

The public administration perspective, I’m learning, is a rather peculiar worldview. The way working with government agencies shapes ones outlook on the world and its programs is somewhat surprising. After a while, though, it makes sense. As I have interacted with my instructors and my fellow students, I’ve noticed that most of them, with very few exceptions, are far more invested in the PA worldview than I am. I’m not just an outsider looking in; I’m an outsider that is privy to a very intimate look at the worldview itself and how it is shaped.

Despite the natural efforts to pull me into the group, I am most definitely an outsider. My purposes for being in this program are different than the common purposes shared by most of my peers. I have never worked for a government organization and I don’t really intend to do so. That’s not why I’m in the program. I’m not getting this degree to further my career. I am here to learn how to (and how not to) design and build nonprofit organizations that work. This program does serve that purpose—I’m learning, especially with the addition of my independent studies, what I need to learn, even when I didn’t realize I needed to learn it. My unique perspective is also valued—I’m not being forced to conform (not that that works well with me anyway), nor am I being excluded. But I’m still an outsider. I don’t share their worldview, but I’m starting to understand it and even appreciate it.

From a PA perspective, meeting the needs of soldiers during the war helps us succeed in our war efforts. It may be a relatively small contribution, but these small contributions can add up to make a big difference. After the war, meeting the needs of soldiers is both a matter of duty and an investment in our ability to attract new soldiers for the next war or the next deployment. This forward-thinking focus is something I can appreciate; it shows that they recognize the impact their positive and negative actions have, which is very important. Unfortunately, that focus has side effects; the reason this attention to our soldiers’ needs is not generalized to the non-military public is because the attention isn’t really on the needs, but on the soldiers.

For example, there is an effort in our government to help soldiers (with disabilities or not, but especially those with disabilities) obtain government jobs. They’re given a priority in hiring and it’s not only legal, but the requirement to do so is written into our laws. It is considered very important to give qualified veterans an especially good opportunity to work for the federal government and to benefit from support services and training to qualify for a position and to benefit from advancement opportunities once a position is obtained. There is also an effort in our government to help people with disabilities in a similar fashion. They also enjoy certain privileges in hiring that aren’t available to the general public, and may even benefit from non-competitive hiring. BUT while the goals are similar and the methods are similar, the programs aren’t linked. I can find little or no evidence in the consciousness of this worldview that there is a clear and discernible interconnected relationship between these two programs. We have soldiers (with or without disabilities) and we have people with disabilities. There is no recognized overlap.

As an outsider, this is mindboggling. But as an outsider with an intimate view into how this worldview is formed and how it operates, it makes a “common sense.” I’m not saying that it makes sense; just that it makes the kind of sense “they” hold in common.

Our government recognizes that we do not treat our soldiers as we should, and they’re trying to do something to fix that. Our government recognizes that we do not treat people with disabilities as we should, and they’re trying to do something to fix that. But they see both groups as distinct, separate demographics. They treat them as distinct, separate demographics. They address their needs as distinct, separate demographics. And, in doing so, they miss the point. It seems to me that they’re so worried about missing the forest for the trees that they’ve failed to understand that the trees aren’t the forest. They don’t realize that they can “save” the forest without really helping the trees.

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