Interview with Charles McCaffrey, Director of Veterans Career Program

Posted By PVA Admin on September 23, 2022
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Charles McCaffrey, MBA, Director of Veterans Career Program

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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. What are some barriers that disabled Veterans face in employment and how does the Veterans Career Program address them?

Disabilities can be a big barrier to meaningful employment. Our clients deal with a range of disabilities, from PTSD to, in the case of our members, spinal cord injury and disease (SCI/D). Typically, the barrier is physical in nature, but those with invisible disabilities face challenges too.  We work with employers to help them understand how their hiring and retention programs could be more accommodating of employees with disabilities. We also work closely with our Government Relations team when there is legislation that can be changed to assist employment options for those with disabilities.

One barrier that we see with our clients comes from within – they have to work on their confidence. Sometimes, professionals provide well-meaning advice that isn’t always the best, saying, “you have VA and social security benefits and are rated 100% disability, so why bother working?” As a lot of Americans realized during the pandemic, isolation can be challenging and employment can help alleviate isolation. It’s not just about collecting a paycheck, it’s about having a sense of purpose and place in society.

Another barrier is that employers don’t always understand reasonable accommodations. A lot of times when they hear that, they think, “oh this is going to be really costly. I’m going to have to redesign my whole building to be accessible.” However, a reasonable accommodation could be as simple as changing the placement of a desk so an individual doesn’t have their back to a doorway or offering telework opportunities. We work very closely with employers to help them gain an understanding of that and see what technology is available to assist with that as well.

What are the services that the Veterans Career Program provides, and why is it different than other nonprofit career programs?

We are different in three critical ways.

First, we were ahead of the curve on digital events, thanks to our Veterans Career Live sessions. Even before the pandemic started, we switched from in-person hiring events to online informational and employment webinars. We still do them today, usually for an hour on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. They’re free and everyone who registers get a recording of them, as well as any PowerPoint slides if there are any. Part of the reason we did this is because we found that a lot of our core clientele, those with spinal cord injuries and disease, had a difficult time attending events in person or, if they did attend, felt they weren’t fully appreciated as potential employees. It just happened to be fortuitous that everything went online with COVID shortly after we did. Going forward, we still intend to continue doing the Career Live sessions virtually. The first year we did it, we had around 15,000 registrations. It’s gone down a little bit since the unemployment rate has gone down, but we still had around 12,000 registrations last year. In the past, we have done sessions on resume writing and interview skills. We’ve also had federal agencies like the IRS come on to talk about hiring within the IRS, and various companies from around the country, as well as several universities and training programs. We try to vet those to make sure they have very strong hiring and retention practices. Most recently, we’ve had the Veterans Watchmakers Initiative, which is a school in Delaware that teaches watch making and watch repair. They’ve been doing this for a few years now and have connections to companies like Rolex and Timex, so it’s both a training and placing program.

We’re also different in that we don’t turn anyone away. Even though we’re Paralyzed Veterans of America, and our focus is on those with spinal cord injuries and disease (SCI/D), we will help anyone in the military community, including military spouses or caregivers. We even have special programming for people in each of those categories. At the same time, because of our heavy focus on those with SCI/D, we’re able to place individuals who, because of their disability, might traditionally be harder to place. Just last month, we placed fourteen individuals into jobs, with three of those jobs with salaries of over $120,000. Our counselors do one-on-one counseling so when someone reaches out to us, our counselors are able to personally assist them with whatever they need, whether that be resume writing, interviewing or figuring out how to keep their VA or Social Security benefits while being employed.

Finally, what makes us unique is the kinds of jobs we place people in. We offer many different kinds of opportunities, but we always aim for meaningful employment, not just filling positions. So, if a company says they want to hire 100 Veterans but has a very high attrition rate, then they’re probably not a good fit for us. We’re looking for companies that are a good match with the needs of the individual and will contribute to their career.

Describe your role at PVA. Why did you decide to dedicate your career to this work?

As the Director of the Veterans Career Program, I oversee an amazing team of seven counselors around the country who do one-on-one counseling and job placements. I’m a Navy Veteran myself, and in the fifteen years since I’ve left military service, I have gone back to school, run my own business, run nonprofits, worked for government contractors and worked for commercial companies. I’ve kind of done the whole gamut. I had to do a lot of figuring it out for myself; if I had known about the resources PVA offers, that would have been very helpful to me. Like a lot of Veterans, I have a strong desire to serve and continue serving. I’ve been working in the Veterans Service arena for the past ten years, so when someone I knew really well was working for PVA and pointed me to the Associate Director opportunity available, I jumped at the opportunity because I really wanted to get back to working with Veterans and serving the Veteran community.

Share a moment where you and your team made a difference in a Veteran’s life.

There’s this one individual who we featured in the June Success Stories on our website. He was an Army Reservist, and after he left the service, he went back and got his law degree. Unfortunately, due to injuries and trauma from his experiences from his time in the military, he developed issues with addiction that led to him losing his law license, affected his family life, and caused his life to go in a downward spiral. He reached out to us to let us know that he wanted to get back to work, but had a lot of negatives in his past. He worked with our vocational rehab counselor, and we found him a job working in counseling for individuals struggling with addiction where he could serve as a role model. Now he’s back to work, recovered from addiction, and is in the process of rebuilding his relationship with his family. His story really speaks to the level of support that we provide. We are not a one-and-done organization where you just get one hour of counseling and you’re on your own. In many cases, we work with our clients on a week-to-week basis and sometimes even a day-to-day basis.

Tell us about what Veterans Career Live programming is available for Veterans, and where they can find it.

Everything about the Veterans Career program is on our website under the Veterans Services tab, and you can find information relating to our Veterans Career Live programming and other information on that page as well. We have recorded some of the Career Live sessions that is available on our YouTube page. We also post upcoming session information and monthly updates with success stories on our page, so individuals can see other Veterans and military family members that are receiving support.

If you are a Veteran or military family member are thinking about going back to work, please reach out to us. We are more than happy to assist you in your career pursuits!

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