Veterans and the Americans With Disabilities Act

In this article...
  • The ADA, which protects veterans with disabilities, acts to prohibit discrimination and provide accommodation. Learn more about the rights of disabled veterans.
Man uses wheelchair in bathroom remodeled for accessibility

Approximately 29.6% of America’s 12 million veterans ages 21-64 have a disability such as a spinal cord injury, missing limb, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or hearing loss. Part of the Americans With Disabilities Act protects the employment rights of veterans and ensures their success when returning to the civilian workforce. 

What Is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Like all Americans with disabilities, veterans are protected under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Enacted in 1990, the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees with disabilities when it comes to hiring, termination and other terms and conditions of employment. The ADA also states that people with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to perform their jobs, and enjoy the same facilities, benefits and privileges as all other employees.

What Injuries and Impairments Are Considered Disabilities by the ADA?

The ADA does not include a specific list of covered medical conditions. Instead, it provides a broader definition of “disability” that each individual person must meet. According to the ADA, disability means:

"A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment."

Examples of these physical or mental impairments include limitations with:

  • Walking, seeing, hearing, speaking or breathing
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Concentrating, thinking or learning
  • Caring for oneself

Most people with a military disability rating or disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are covered by the ADA’s definition. Though the ADA uses different criteria than the United States Department of Defense and VA to determine disability, it actually covers a wider range of impairments that don't need to prevent or severely restrict performance. 

Are Veterans Required to Disclose Their Disability to Employers?

Some disabilities are clearly visible, while others are not. The ADA does not require veterans to reveal any medical conditions during the application process or interview. If your disability is obvious, employers still cannot ask questions about how, when or where you were injured. 

However, there are a few scenarios where questions about disability are legal and potentially helpful. For example, some employment applications may ask you to voluntarily indicate if you are a “disabled veteran.” This is allowed when an employer is:

  • "Undertaking affirmative action because of a federal, state, or local law (including a veterans' preference law) that requires affirmative action for individuals with disabilities; or,
  • Voluntarily using the information to benefit individuals with disabilities, including veterans with service-connected disabilities."

What Is a Reasonable Accommodation?

If you’re qualified for a position — meaning you meet the employer’s requirements for education, experience and skills — the employer may also ask if there are any accommodations you need to help you perform the job’s essential duties. Some examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Larger print materials and visual displays
  • Workspace reconfiguration for wheelchair accessibility
  • One-handed keyboards 
  • Modified or flexible scheduling
  • Noise-canceling headsets
  • On-site mentor or job coach
  • Voice-to-text software

Veterans may request an accommodation at any time during the application process or employment. Studies show that veterans with disabilities perform their jobs just as well as other employees — though they may do them differently. It's important to remember that a reasonable accommodation is not a special favor or sign of weakness, but a legally protected right.