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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The 2014 National Disability Employment Awareness Month poster.Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2014 is “Expect. Employ. Empower.”

NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” Upon its establishment in 2001, ODEP assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since.

Disability employment is an issue of particular importance to Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) — Safe Harbor, which helps seriously wounded, ill and injured service members and their caregivers find employment. Though they may face obstacles that others do not, our wounded warriors make valuable contributions to the workforce. Learn more about NWW’s employment and education assistance program now.

Photo of the Week: Disabled Veterans Memorial

A photo of a Navy Wounded Warrior -- Safe Harbor enrollee visits the American Veterans with Disabilities for Life Memorial.Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) — Safe Harbor enrollee, retired Hopsital Corpsman 3rd Class Kenneth Swartz (left), recently visited the new American Veterans Disabled for Life Mermorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial honors service members who return home with life-altering disabilities, which serve as stern reminders of the price of freedom. Swartz, who was wounded in Afghanistan, was joined at the memorial by Army veteran John Kohl (right), the husband of NWW representative, Navy Lt. Aileen Kohl. Like Swartz, Kohl also was wounded during Operation Enduring Freedom. NWW thanks both of them for their service and sacrifices!

Live from the Warrior Games: Pedaling Together

A photo of retired Navy LTJG Laura Root at Warrior Games 2014.By retired Navy Lt. j.g. Laura Root, Team Navy member

We’re in the heat of Warrior Games 2014 in Colorado Springs! This is my second time competing, and, for me, Warrior Games is a bit like Christmas. First and foremost, we – disabled U.S. veterans – get to spend a full week with one another – some of our favorite people. After reconnecting with and meeting the members of the other teams and hearing their stories this week, Team Navy is overwhelmed with respect and admiration.

Everyone has unique challenges, but the Warrior Games mark a special time of year when our community joins together to rise above whatever issues we’re facing. It’s a refuge where we are identified by who we are individually, beyond the “disabled” or “military” labels we often hear.

For many of us, our lives were irrevocably changed after our injuries or diagnoses, and rehabilitation initially seemed unattainable. In military adaptive sports, however, we are reminded that our best days are still ahead, and we learn resiliency skills that carry us through tough times. We have an opportunity to redefine ourselves as we participate in sports that we love. At Warrior Games, we celebrate what we can achieve together after facing our worst-case scenarios.

Warrior Games 2014 is devoid of any flashy international celebrities or extremely high-profile politicians. It is completely centered our tight-knit network, which includes veteran support organizations, Reservists, family and friends, and active-duty military.

So far, we have faced the most challenging cycling course I’ve seen in 10 years. Despite having trained on longer courses with more elevation gains, I almost couldn’t complete this year’s course. Between the challenging topography and elevation, the course was almost too much for someone like me to handle – someone who has been diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease. I kept telling myself it was more a mental battle than anything else, but the physical repercussions were far too real.

Still, the best moment for me in two Warrior Games took place on that cycling course. Two competitors from SOCOM and the Marine Corps teams decided that the three of us should finish together. They coaxed me through the most difficult parts of the course, including a hill so steep that I worried about rolling backwards. My teammates and coaches cheered “ pain is temporary!” and “its like pedaling through hummus!” on the worse part of the hill.

During the quiet, lonelier parts of the course – free of spectators – it was my military sisters on the SOCOM and Marine Corps teams who slowed down to talk to me. Just as in life with any kind of disability, the lonelier parts of the course were the hardest. We rolled through the finish side by side, wearing the colors of three teams. Warrior Games is the highlight of the year for many, where we find the camaraderie and togetherness that sustain us through the challenges that lie ahead.

Photo of the Week: Standing Tall

A photo of retired Navy BM1 Jim Castaneda and his wife Alona.At the Warrior Games this week, retired Navy Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Jim Castaneda was able to something he hasn’t done in years — stand upright. He tried out an Action Trackstander, which allows wheelchair-bound individuals to stand and move about while upright. Castaneda — who is pictured above with his wife and primary caregiver, Alona — was confined to a wheelchair several years ago after a suffering a stroke and related health complications. He had a big smile on his face while he was using the Action Trackstander, and he had a blast driving it around the gymnasium before that evening’s sitting volleyball game began. Go, Jim, go! #TeamNavy

Photo of the Week: Warrior Games Training

A photo of a Navy wounded warrior participating in cycling training.

Thirty-nine seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors – who hail from across the country – landed in Colorado Springs, Colo. this week to begin training for the fifth annual Warrior Games, which kick off at the Olympic Training Center Sept. 28.

Meet one of the Team Navy captains: Navy Chief Career Counselor Ching Dressel (above)! 

Dressel, an avid runner, was selected in June to compete on behalf of the Navy at the 2014 Warrior Games. A returning athlete, she will compete in cycling and track.

“The therapeutic power of sports for wounded warriors — not just combat-wounded service members, but medically wounded, too — is important to recognize and share,” said Dressel.

Dressel was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome in June 2009, and in February 2012, she received a bone marrow transplant. She currently is in remission.

Dressel has never let her illness slow her down. During her treatment, she was promoted to chief petty officer, and, since then, she has worked hard to remain on active duty. At the recent Invictus Games in London — an international competition among wounded warriors from 13 nations — Dressel took home a bronze medal in track.

Photo of the Week: #IAMUSA

Wounded warrior athletes win gold at the 2014 Invictus Games.Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Donald Jackson won the U.S. team’s first gold medal during track and field competitions Sept. 11 at #InvictusGames2014 in London. His achievement was followed by several other medal wins in various sports from seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen — and well as from the rest of the #USTeam.

“The Invictus Games is not really about medals; it’s about connecting with seriously wounded, ill and injured service members from other nations,” said retired Navy Lt. j.g. Laura Root, who was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy in 2011. “I’ve met other people here with Muscular Dystrophy – people like me. I have been using all of the other languages I know! It has been amazing to connect with these athletes.”

Learn more about the Invictus Games now — and stay connected via Facebook!