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Event Salutes Severely Disabled Employees

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2009 – Senior Defense Department officials recognized the work and contributions made by disabled contract employees during a ceremony held at the Pentagon conference center yesterday.

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Alvin Ramlu “needed a new plan” for his life after suffering severe injuries in Afghanistan. Today, the medically retired Army specialist helps fellow veterans at his job as a switchboard operator at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Mather, Calif. He was hired through an AbilityOne contract offered by the nonprofit agency Project HIRED. DoD photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The department employs about 33,000 severely disabled civilians, and it added more than 1,600 severely disabled employees to its work force under the AbilityOne Program in fiscal 2009, said Shay Assad, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology.

The AbilityOne Program, formerly known as the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, is a federal initiative that works with private and public organizations to generate employment opportunities for Americans who are blind or who have other severe disabilities. More than 40,000 people work under the program, including more than 2,000 wounded military veterans.

The department conducted about $1.5 billion in contracted business as part of the AbilityOne Program, Assad said. “That’s a significant accomplishment in today’s economic environment,” he added.

The Pentagon’s AbilityOne ceremony is held in October in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month, said ceremony host Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

“I’m proud to be honoring you today for your dedicated service to this department,” Carter told the award recipients. “There is no doubt that AbilityOne Program employees are vital to the military industrial base and contribute to the [Defense Department] mission here at the Pentagon.”

AbilityOne employees produce quality office products as well as military goods, and also provide essential services used throughout the department and by warfighters, Carter said.

AbilityOne employees who received the Defense Department Award for Excellent Performance include:

-- Louis Miller, 53. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Miller performs stocking and maintenance work at the Pentagon.

-- Nicholas Moreno, 26. Diagnosed with DiGeorge Syndrome, Moreno performs custodial work at the Pentagon.

-- Keith Tyson, 37. Legally blind, Tyson performs stocking and other duties at the office supply center at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.

“I never could find a job until I found out about the AbilityOne Program,” Tyson said. “I really enjoy working where I am now.”

It’s a good feeling, Miller said, “to know that there’s support” that assists severely disabled people in finding employment.

The AbilityOne Program, Moreno said, “helps people like us with disabilities to find a good job in the community and it helps people to be on their own.”

The ceremony also honored defense managers who support AbilityOne, as well as a private enterprise long associated with the military.

The Osborne A. “Oz” Day AbilityOne Awareness Award went to Frank J. Anderson Jr., the director for acquisition, technology and logistics human capital initiatives and president of the Defense Acquisition University. The DAU recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the AbilityOne program. Day, who died May 20, 2008, was a private-citizen member of the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, the federal agency that oversees AbilityOne operations.

The committee, along with the National Industries for the Blind, and NISH, formerly known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, form a triad of support for AbilityOne. The present committee chairman, Andrew D. Houghton, has headed the body since July 2006. He praised the department for its support of AbilityOne.

“We wouldn’t be here today if it was not for the support of the Department of Defense and the military,” Houghton said, noting the Pentagon has “raised the bar” for its employment of people with severe disabilities.

Other award recipients honored at the ceremony include:

-- Acquisition Excellence Award: Sean Murphy and Stephen Abate, procurement officials at the U.S. Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command Acquisition Center in Natick, Mass., awarded a $15.4 million contract to Industries of the Blind, to manufacture neck pads that protect a combat soldier’s neck from shrapnel.

-- Acquisition Excellence Award: The Army Public Works Project Team at Fort Polk, La., worked to let a $18 million contract with an AbilityOne-affiliated nonprofit agency that will provide 91 full-time jobs for people with disabilities.

-- Exceptional Industry Contribution Award: The Boeing Co. office in Chicago was recognized as a long-time industry leader in partnering with the AbilityOne program.

After the award presentations, Carter introduced the ceremony’s keynote speaker, former California National Guardsman Alvin Ramlu.

Ramlu recalled thinking that he “needed a new plan” for his life after suffering severe injuries from a suicide-bomb blast and rocket attack during his service as an Army specialist three years ago in Afghanistan.

Ramlu’s three-vehicle convoy encountered an enemy ambush on June 3, 2006. He pulled two injured comrades to safety during the attack and received the Combat Action Badge, but felt there was something wrong with him.

“I started realizing that something was not right; anxiety was turning me into a different person,” Ramlu said, noting he’d been notified around that time that his grandmother had suffered a stroke.

Ramlu, now 29, was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and several other injuries after he returned stateside in March 2007. He was medically retired.

Today, Ramlu helps fellow veterans at his job as a switchboard operator at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Mather, Calif. He was hired through an AbilityOne contract offered by the nonprofit Project HIRED.

“I’m learning something new every day,” Ramlu said, noting he is preparing to take a new job at the veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto to be closer to his home in San Mateo. The AbilityOne Program “gave me a chance,” he said. “I have so much gratitude … I’m able to support me and my family.”

Employees hired under the AbilityOne program also work at military base dining facilities and perform laundry, digital imaging, as well as office supply and grounds maintenance services.

AbilityOne program employees also make military equipment such as canteens, chemical-protective suits, portable water carriers, and more, said Stephanie Lesko, a spokeswoman for the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.

“We make a variety of products for the military,” Lesko said as she displayed a portable water carrier. “Everything here was made by people with severe disabilities.”

Contact Author

Biographies:
Ashton B. Carter
Shay Assad

Related Sites:
AbilityOne Program
Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
National Industries for the Blind
NISH


Click photo for screen-resolution imageStephanie Lesko, a spokeswoman for the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, displays a portable water carrier used by servicemembers. DoD photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLeft to right: AbilityOne employees Nicholas Moreno, Louis Miller and Keith Tyson pose with their Defense Department excellent performance awards following an Oct. 20, 2009, award ceremony at the Pentagon conference center. DoD photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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