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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on Veterans Day 2022

On November 11, we will honor the courage, service, and sacrifices of our nation’s military veterans who served to protect the American people and uphold our country’s principles of liberty and equality. At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we thank our agency’s 619 dedicated veterans for their commitment, and we support America’s veterans as they participate in the workforce.

Studies have proven that job security is a key component to successful readjustment to civilian life for veterans following military service, and recent employment trends indicate that more veterans are benefiting from stable employment. In 2021, 18.5 million people comprised the U.S. veteran population, and that same year, the unemployment rate for veterans decreased to 4.4%. Yet, while the unemployment rate for veterans was lower than the rate of nonveterans (at 5.3%), 18% of military spouses reported having lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help eliminate barriers to employment and other opportunities for historically underserved workers, including veterans and military spouses, the EEOC is actively supporting the implementation of Executive Orders 13985 (Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government) and 14035 (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce).

As our country strives to recover from the pandemic, the Commission has worked to address many of the challenging COVID-related issues that have arisen in U.S. workplaces. For example, COVID-created stressors – including fear of sickness, concern for loved ones, isolation, and new childcare and family demands – can be especially difficult for veterans who suffer from service-connected disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, more veterans were found to have anxiety, depression, and COVID-related stress compared to civilian employees. To inform employers and workers, including veterans, of their rights during the pandemic, the EEOC published technical assistance on COVID-19 workplace issues, including numerous updates to our “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” document, and issued technical assistance on how antidiscrimination laws protect applicants and employees with caregiving responsibilities.

To prevent and remedy discrimination against veterans, whether because of a service-connected disability or on any other protected basis, the EEOC is committed to ensuring veterans and their employers understand workplace rights and protections under federal antidiscrimination laws. Two EEOC resource documents – one for veterans and one for employers – help explain the rights and responsibilities for veterans with disabilities in the workplace. We also offer guidance for federal and state employers on how to use veterans’ hiring preference and work with other federal agencies to help increase veterans’ awareness about the range of protections for their rights when they enter or return to civilian employment.

In addition, through continuing enforcement, we combat workplace discrimination on behalf of veterans to protect their employment opportunities. For example, the EEOC recently sued a senior living residence, alleging that it violated federal antidiscrimination law when it revoked a job offer to a veteran who disclosed that she took prescription medication for PTSD that would prevent her from passing the employer’s drug test.

Regarding education and outreach, our agency has collaborated with other federal agencies, medical professionals, and non-profit organizations to help women veterans re-enter the workforce and better understand their employment rights. For example, throughout this year, the EEOC’s Dallas District Office conducted outreach to female veterans about ways to identify workplace discrimination and exercise their employment rights. The EEOC also coordinated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver presentations to female veterans and address their specific questions regarding employment and health concerns. These well-received presentations often led to female veterans reaching out to our agency and partners for individual guidance. 

The Commission’s efforts to ensure the workplace rights of veterans, including female veterans, and to advance diversity and inclusion, build on the legacy of Clifford Alexander Jr., who served as Chair of the EEOC from 1967 to 1969 and passed away earlier this year. Chair Alexander sought to expand the agency’s work in combating workplace segregation and discrimination, with a focus on fair and equal treatment of women, in private employment and the military. In an open letter commemorating our agency’s 35th anniversary, Alexander noted, “Perhaps the major challenge during my time in office was getting employers to understand how much more needed to be done to give women their fair share of employment opportunities.” Alexander’s devotion to equal opportunity continued after his tenure at the EEOC as he went on to serve as the first Black Secretary of the Army (1977-81). In that role, Alexander worked to create opportunities for historically marginalized groups to advance in the military and advocated for more women and Black leaders in the U.S. Army.

This Veterans Day, the EEOC celebrates our nation’s veterans and remembers the legacy of former Chair Clifford Alexander Jr. We are committed to providing equal employment opportunities and building inclusive workplaces for veterans where they can contribute their unique talents and skills as well as continue to demonstrate exemplary service and leadership.

With gratitude,

Charlotte A. Burrows (she/her/hers)