Volunteering to Assist the Military: How to Help

by Bethany Broadwell on March 1, 2008 - 3:42pm

QUEST Vol. 15, No. 2

While the Department of Defense medical standards likely will disqualify people with muscular dystrophy from enlisting in the service for physical safety reasons, the image of Uncle Sam pointing and saying, “WE WANT YOU,” can still apply to people with neuromuscular diseases.

For those who wish to play a part in supporting the military, opportunities exist for civilian employees and volunteers to contribute and help the men and women who make up our armed forces.

Family support

Valerie Lewis, 45, of Norfolk, Va., has felt an attachment to the Navy since birth. Not only was her father a career Navy man, but Steve, her husband of 14 years, also is serving the Navy as an aviation electrician.

Lewis’ muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy haven’t stopped her from being involved in each command where her husband has been stationed.

“It’s my honor to do whatever I can to help,” she explains. “After all, they’re fighting to keep us safe!”

Lewis initially volunteered as a member of the family support group helping to organize homecomings for the command’s return from six-month deployments. Then, as a command ombudsman, she helped in emergency situations with tasks such as contacting the Red Cross to convey messages to ships or land-based groups.

Helping new families get settled, educating them on the area, connecting families to resources or simply addressing questions as they arise are all part of Lewis’ volunteer role. One of her recent efforts has been helping several retired and active-duty families file for reimbursement on conversion vans they need for medical reasons. She’s managed to get refunded 75 percent of the $21,000 each person paid out of pocket.

While Lewis, as a spouse, contributes in Navy family support groups, she assures others that finding ways to participate can be as easy as making a telephone call. She suggests that people who are interested in lending support get in touch with the military base closest to them and ask what assistance the family service center could use.

“Each of us can find some way to contribute to our military groups,” she concludes.

Working for the military

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Ligia Cohen agrees. “People with limited strength or any other disability can, as civilians, contractors and volunteers, contribute to the Navy in a variety of capacities and with the only requisite of being qualified to do the job.”

Cohen adds that individuals who have a severe physical, cognitive or emotional disability, and who qualify with a certification letter from a State Vocational Rehabilitation Office or the Department of Veterans Affairs, may apply for noncompetitive appointment through the Schedule A special hiring authority. For more information on this option, visit http://oeodm.od.nih.gov.

Meanwhile, jobseekers may apply directly to any vacancy listing on the Department of the Navy automated applicant system at www.navy.mil. They also may apply directly to any local Human Resource Office selective placement coordinator.

The Department of the Navy currently employs more than 180,000 civilians in a variety of occupations, with 5.53 percent of the workforce identifying themselves as having a disability, according to Cohen. “We’re currently working to improve those statistics,” she says, noting that by 2010, the department plans to employ some 3,700 civilian workers with targeted disabilities (2 percent of its workforce).

Dr. Stanley Uchman, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who received a diagnosis of multicore myopathy in 1986, explains, “The military services are outsourcing many of their base jobs/positions to the civilian workforce.” For people with disabilities, according to him, “this will open a lot of new opportunities.”

Moral support

A sincere message of appreciation is a simple way to support our troops that requires minimal physical exertion.

Jeremy and Megan Kozak, of Blanchard, Okla., are a brother and sister who took the time to post encouragement on the www.ourmilitary.mil/index.aspx Web site. Jeremy, 22, and Megan, 19, both have myotonic muscular dystrophy (MMD) and are longtime supporters of the military.

Jeremy wrote: “I wanted to thank all of you for your wonderful service to our country! I know what you do takes a lot of courage and I really admire you for that. I hope all of you are doing well and that you stay safe! I will be thinking of all of you! I will keep all of you in my prayers!”

Megan posted: “…even though I wouldn’t be able to serve in the military, because I have muscular dystrophy I know what you are doing is the most unselfish thing a young person can do.”

Megan explained her reason for thanking the military: “It made me feel proud to let them know we support them, and care what happens to them.”

Bethany Broadwell lives in Traverse City, Mich. A freelance writer and Web designer, she has spinal muscular atrophy.

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