New Web site aids disabled veterans

By Ed Brock

When Joseph Beriault came back from the Vietnam War with a serious disability, there were some challenges.

"I had problems finding a job," said Beriault.

Now 74 and living in Morrow, Beriault was among the first troops to go to Vietnam in the mid-1960s and while on a mission he stepped on a booby trap. He lost a leg, and when he came home in 1965 he was also blind in one eye and was missing part of his skull.

He took a class in radio and television repair but still couldn't find a job. A lot of companies considered him to be too much of an insurance risk.

"They said I was an accident looking for happening," Beriault said.

Now the Department of Labor is trying to educate people about their Web site that could help today's veterans who come back from the war in Iraq with a disability avoid the problems soldiers of Beriault's generation faced. The Web site is www.DisabilityInfo.gov.

"DisabilityInfo.gov provides Americans with disabilities a direct connection to information and resources they need to become full participants in the 21st century workforce," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in a statement.

Launched in 2002 as part of President Bush's New Freedom Initiative, DisabilityInfo.gov isn't just for soldiers. Almost 3.5 million people in 180 countries have visited the site since it opened.

The site provides information on education, employment, health, housing and more. That can be extremely useful to returning soldiers who must essentially start a new life.

In about six months time that could include members of the Army National Guard 48th Brigade Combat Team currently serving in Iraq. Several soldiers in the 48th are from Clayton and Henry counties.

"This subject of disability benefits is often confusing to anyone unfamiliar with the subject," said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, a Guard spokesman. "All attempts to greater clarify and explain this often-difficult/confusing subject of disability is a step in the right direction. As more people look to the Internet as their primary information source, a disability information Web site becomes a natural and appropriate source of this kind of information."

James Frederick, an assistant commissioner for claim division with the Georgia Department of Veterans Services, refers veterans to the DisabilityInfo.gov Web site all the time.

"A lot of veterans don't understand their veterans' preference. They don't understand their right to re-employment," Frederick said.

That right to re-employment is reserved for Guard members who must leave their civilian jobs to be deployed for combat. Sometimes employers fail to meet that obligation.

"The law says that that job has to be held for that person," Frederick said. "You'd be amazed at the number of firms and organizations that either, number one, don't know about that or, number two, don't comply with it."

The Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Services division is also devoted to protecting that right and providing employment services to veterans, Frederick said.