Minn. center helps paralyzed vets find jobs
By Elizabeth Dunbar - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Apr 19, 2008 7:53:58 EDT

ST. PAUL — Dependent on a wheelchair since a 1994 car accident, Raymond Kenney still considers himself lucky when he sees young troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with spinal-cord injuries.

The Marine veteran from Richmond, Va., never saw combat, and he’s met many recently injured veterans who have to deal with the stress of being in combat along with their new disability.

But Kenney hopes new disabled veterans in Minnesota will have an easier time than he did finding a job. A new vocational resource center that officially opened in St. Paul on Friday will help, he said.

Kenney benefited from a similar program in Richmond and now has a part-time job working for a company that makes Web sites accessible to people with disabilities. On Friday, he joined VA Secretary James Peake and other officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Paralyzed Veterans of America Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling Center.

The center will be housed at the Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building until this fall, when it will be moved to the new spinal-cord injury unit at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

The center will help disabled veterans learn skills needed to rejoin the work force. Then the veterans will be matched with potential employers. The center is a partnership between Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Department of Veterans Affairs and TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

“Health care alone is not the answer,” Peake told about 200 people attending the ceremony. “It’s how you get a soldier, a sailor, a Marine back into society.”

Maurice Jordan, deputy director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said 85 percent of severely disabled veterans are unemployed, a number the group is trying to decrease. Kenney and 13 other veterans have been successfully placed in jobs through the Richmond center, he said.

After his accident, Kenney returned to the printing company he had worked for but soon realized he was ready for something else. He applied for several positions and interviewed for some, but he said potential employers looked at him differently.

“I could tell just by going in for an interview, just by looking on people’s faces, that my disability was pretty much what they were focusing on,” Kenney said. “(Employers) don’t understand how to approach someone with a disability.”

After being introduced to the center in Richmond about nine months ago, Kenney got help getting an accessible van. The center also helped him develop better computer skills that led to his current job.

Now, Kenney helps veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reach their potential.

“They have issues that they have to overcome. I help them understand that they can still do something,” he said.