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Dinah Cohen: Helping wounded veterans re-enter the workforce

From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, October 26, 2009; 5:07 AM

It's not easy for a wounded veteran returning from Afghanistan or Iraq to secure a civilian job but Dinah Cohen and her team at the Defense department's Computer Electronic Accomodation Program (CAP) are working with medical experts to change that.

By providing specialized computers software and electronics to veterans who are hearing and visually impaired, they work to make veterans more marketable to employers..

Cohen, the director of CAP, once worked as a rehabilitation counselor, visiting injured soldiers at the Veterans Administration and military hospitals. That experience is what led her to CAP, she said. "When I started going up there and saw the amputees and the people who have lost their vision from IEDs, it became obvious to me that we had the tools they would need to re-enter the workforce," she said.

In 2008, CAP provided training and equipment to almost 4,600 wounded veterans to increase their opportunities for employment. The services were offered at medical centers, such as Walter Reed.

Under CAP's program, medical centers identify the assistive technology they need for veterans and take ownership of training the veterans on such equipment. The training takes place while the veterans are undergoing rehabilitation.

CAP's effort is part of a much broader program that Cohen helped start in 1990 to remove financial barriers and achieve job security for people with disabilities.

Though initially designed solely for Pentagon employees, CAP expanded its mission over the years to provide services to disabled employees in more than 65 federal government agencies. The program has helped more than 81,000 individuals.

"I like to think that each and every time we fill a CAP request, we are making someone's life a little easier, helping them to be more productive in their work environment and in their own personal lives," Cohen said.

Under the broader government-wide program, CAP purchases and delivers the hardware, software and services that people with disabilities need to function in the workplace. This includes everything from specialized voice recognition and screen magnification software to assistive listening devices, cueing aids and powerful computer-based applications to help with memory loss. There are also Braille terminals and specialized keyboards for people who have lost use of their hands.

CAP is as much a resource for federal managers as it is for workers with disabilities.

Cohen opened the CAP Technology Evaluation Center as an assessment and demonstration facility, which serves as a resource for senior federal government workers to realize the power of assistive technology. It has hosted demonstrations, training and technology assessments for tens of thousands of visitors.

Cohen struggled with a congenital heart disease at a young age and the experience has made a difference in her work, she said. , said of her own adversity: "Growing up with my own disabilities, I am inspired to make sure others can succeed in their chosen careers as I have."

She is especially fulfilled by the direct and positive impact on people.

"The reason I stay so engaged and so passionate about what I do is customer service. When I go out, I will meet some of my customers and they let me know the impact we have been able to make on their lives. It's what makes each day special," Cohen said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Visit Partnership for Public Service for more about the organization's work.
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