Rising in the Ranks: Disabled Army Vet Speaks Out on the Hill
By Kerry McGinley
When Jeff Carver comes to Washington, he’s coming to speak up for veterans with disabilities and wounded warriors. His June trip to the nation’s capital to meet with Congress marks a new role he’s cultivated since starting a post-service career with InspiriTec: self-advocate.
“A lot of times, veterans’ disabilities are unseen, unrecognizable,” he said, referring to post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. “A lot of people really have this norm about not hiring veterans [with PTS/TBI] because they think they’re going to be explosive in the workplace.”
So when Carver meets with his congressional representatives, he’s out to dispel those misperceptions and stereotypes, he said. He’s joining more than 50 other employees from SourceAmerica network nonprofits as part of the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, an annual event that positions people with disabilities to speak up and be heard on Capitol Hill. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event that connects people with disabilities with lawmakers.
Carver has participated in local- and state-level outreach to legislators. He’s looking forward to his first advocacy efforts on the Hill as part of the conference.
“I like to talk about veterans and their struggles, make sure that we’re out there [and that] people know we do need jobs,” he said.
Carver understands first-hand how difficult it can be for disabled veterans to find those jobs. His 22 years in the U.S. Army brought three major combat deployments, including Iraq and Bosnia. It also brought debilitating spinal issues stemming from the Gulf War that required major surgery to insert rods in his back. That left him with permanent and at times debilitating pain and numbness that limits the use of his arms.
When he retired from the Army, his job search was a daunting mission. Heavy lifting, physically demanding jobs such as the work he performed for the Army were no longer options. He applied for more than 200 jobs but couldn’t find the right match. Eventually, a work study program with Army Human Resources Command led him to InspiriTec, a member of the SourceAmerica network of nonprofits.
“I sent out numerous resumes, especially through the government systems,” he said. “Nobody really will say that [they won’t hire due to disability], but you can just tell. There were a lot of unemployed veterans in this area. Really, there would still be a lot of unemployed veterans in this area if it weren’t for InspiriTec.”
Carver started as a customer care representative at the company’s call center at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 2011. Since then, he’s risen through multiple promotions to now work as part of its leadership team as deputy director of InspiriTec’s Defense Manpower Data Center in Fort Knox. He oversees 240 wounded warriors, veterans with disabilities and others who to take calls from veterans and service members. That call center gets more than 134,000 calls per month with questions about benefits, TRICARE and other service-related issues.
Carver earned his associate’s degree and is now six credits short of a bachelor’s in business. He also won the 2014 Evelyne Villines Award from SourceAmerica, which recognizes an employee on an AbilityOne contract who advances in a leadership role.
“We have a great team,” said Peggy Gritt, program director for DMDC. “We have 28 disabled veterans in management. He’s great at managing their work effort. He learned it in the military – they’re very organized. He’s a great delegator making sure everyone’s got the resources they need to succeed.”
A key part of that success is the fact that veterans manning the call center understand what it takes to navigate benefits, she said.
“They have an empathy for and understanding for that mission and what they’re trying to accomplish,” Gritt said. “It’s been good all the way around.”
It has also fueled Carver’s professional growth, said Dean Marino, director of Strategy and Innovation for InspiriTec.
“He’s a great manager in these kinds of high-pressure, fast-paced environments of a call center,” Marino said. “And he’s rising above just the call center project itself and becoming more of an advocate for other veterans.”
Carver represents part of the company’s larger mission, Marino said.
“We wanted to hire veterans – that was our goal. These (call center positions) were higher-end jobs that fit well with the career aspirations of many veterans and leveraged the access to ongoing educational opportunities.” he said. “We learned how effective it was to have veterans serving other veterans as we went. They’re still attached to the (military) mission – that’s really what we discovered.”
Carver feels significant satisfaction knowing his second career is direct support of his first, and that his new role as a Grassroots self-advocate further amplifies his impact.
“It’s like I never left the Army,” he said. “You kind of focus on the same mission, taking care of service members, family members and veterans.”