Veteran strives to be 'part of something' in federal workforce

Wednesday - 1/18/2012, 11:02am EST

Andrew Goodrich, ranger, National Park Service

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Andrew Goodrich planned on a long career as a U.S. Marine. The 25-year old from Jacksonville, Fla., expected to clock at least 30 years in the service before he retired. Instead, he left the Corps after just six.

Serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Goodrich was injured in May 2008 and began down the long road of recovery.

"I've been recovering from injuries such as traumatic brain injury and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and structural damage to my spine and nerve damage, also to my back and legs," Goodrich said. After that, he was enrolled in the Wounded Warrior Battalion of the Marine Corps, where he received extensive rehabilitation.

That's where Goodrich met his service dog and now constant companion — a black Labrador Retriever named Charity.

"Charity has been a great asset in my life," Goodrich said. "She came to me at a time when I needed someone the most, especially in the assistance of walking and stability."

Goodrich credits Charity with helping him to relieve stress and deal with the anxiety he sometimes feels due to PTSD.

A New Career

Through the Operation: Warfighter program, which was developed by the Department of Defense, Goodrich joined the National Park Service as a ranger in November 2011. From his office in Washington, D.C., he oversees emergency operations nationwide as part of NPS' Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Services division.

To ease Goodrich's transition into an office environment, NPS has provided a number of accommodations, including a larger workspace so that Goodrich can move around more freely, mirrors around his desk so that he can see what's going on behind him and a headset so that he can talk on the phone with a minimal amount of stress on his neck.

The greatest accommodation, though, rests in a dog bed under a desk nearby.

"Charity can assist me if I have something drop off my desk," Goodrich said. "She can retrieve it for me. She can help me out of the office chair if I need to get out ... or go for a walk. She can assist me if I'm having a rough day at the office, and I need some time to relax."

Veterans in the workplace

With warfighters returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, a tide of veterans is preparing to reenter the workforce. Just like Goodrich, many will be returning with injuries that will only add to the difficulty of finding a job.

"Veterans are facing a 28 percent unemployment rate," Goodrich said. "That's double the national average and it's probably going to get higher as the defense budget has been altered and people are starting to leave the military with the drawdown."

Goodrich recognized that some federal supervisors and hiring managers might be apprehensive about hiring a veteran with a disability. They might feel unsure about how to treat a job candidate in an interview.

"I would recommend that you not put pressure on a veteran to explain his injuries or his 'story,'" Goodrich said. Talking about such things would likely make the veteran feel uncomfortable, as they're being called upon to relive what might be the most painful experience of their lives. The interviewer should instead focus on the skills and experiences that directly apply to the vacancy they're trying to fill, Goodrich said.

"You're getting someone who's very disciplined and who is very motivated and is very hard working," Goodrich said. "I don't think you can be in the military and go through the training that you've gone through and consider yourself to be lazy. I don't think you'll find much apathy in a veteran if you're looking to hire one."

Managers should also think about what things they can do to help ease the veteran into their office environment.

"One of the best things that you could do to prepare yourself is to understand the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA laws, and figure out what reasonable accommodations you can make for any wounded warrior or veteran that you want to bring on board," Goodrich said. "It would definitely make all the difference in the world and show them that you know what's going on and you're there to help."