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A Message from Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic

Post from Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic - November 2017

Veterans Day 2017

"Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world. A veteran doesn't have that problem." -- Ronald Reagan

One of the things I like to do when I visit EEOC offices around the country is meet with the staff. I always ask people to tell me about their careers with the EEOC, any other public service they have, and, to include military service, if they are veterans. This inevitably leads to some good-natured inter-office rivalry among the service branches represented. I love seeing the pride people have in their careers - perhaps an additional measure of that from the veterans.

Just as the EEOC staff has long reflected our nation's diversity, so too has our military, from the founding of our country. Men and women of all races, national origins, ages, religions, and conditions comprise those to whom we owe our utmost gratitude for defending our rights. As we thank our nation's veterans for their service this Veteran's Day, we should remember that the EEOC is here to help those who experience discrimination, with experienced contacts specially attuned to the unique concerns of veterans.

Some veterans suffer traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other maladies which too often make them susceptible to prejudice and mistreatment in the workplace. At the same time, too many veterans are faced with PTSD stereotyping and assumptions that every vet has some form of PTSD - another potential avenue to discrimination.

Service members may also experience a specialized kind of abuse called military sexual trauma, which recent reports suggest is underreported and undertreated. We at the EEOC want to tell everyone who has experienced such unacceptable and atrocious abuse: don't suffer in silence. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment only for civilian employment, sexual trauma incurred during military service may allow veterans who suffer from its lingering affects to be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and therefore entitled to a reasonable accommodation in the workplace.

Many veterans also are vulnerable to age discrimination. Aside from the workplace discrimination that older workers typically face, some employers may try to pay older veterans a lower salary on the assumption that they receive a pension for their service. Even though not all veterans are seniors, a large proportion of them are age 40 or older, and therefore entitled to Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protections, which includes protection against age-based pay discrimination.

And, of course, too many veterans, as with too many people in other segments of the population, lack knowledge of how the ADA and other laws can protect their rights.

For all these reasons, the EEOC has paid particular attention to the problems of veterans with disabilities. In 2011, the Commission held a meeting examining this subject in all its facets. There, a consensus emerged that veterans with disabilities need a multi-pronged approach in transitioning to and retaining civilian employment - and one of those strategies is full awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws and institutions that protect their rights.

In furtherance of this need, the Commission has issued publications which guide both employers and veterans on how to observe and make use of the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which has made it easier for veterans with a wide range of impairments to obtain the services they need. The EEOC proudly enforces and protects the rights of disabled veterans and allows them to return to the workplace with the reasonable accommodations they may need to rise above the condition(s) they experience - and to thrive.

Every year, EEOC personnel across the country conduct outreach events to veterans, service members, and employers making sure they're all armed with know­ledge of the right to be free from discrimination under federal law. And, we are all the more proud that many of the EEOC personnel doing this great work are veterans themselves.

We fight the good fight at the EEOC every day to advance and defend the rights and principles that our military protects for us all, and we make sure that all Americans - including veterans - enjoy the rights we all deserve to be treated fairly, without prejudice and discrimination.

"We don't know them all, but we owe them all," reads a popular poster on veterans. Here at the EEOC, we're proud to serve them all. To our EEOC veterans, and to those we serve, thank you for your sacrifice and your service.

Victoria A. Lipnic
Acting Chair