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Tackling the Critical Issue of Veterans Unemployment

By Sherman Gillums Jr.,
U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and
Associate Executive Director of Veterans Benefits for Paralyzed Veterans of America

Walmart recently stated their commitment to hiring any honorably discharged returning veteran who applies for a job in the Walmart Corporation.  As we applaud Walmart’s bold initiative, it should be noted that veterans with disabilities have faced record joblessness for years, before the Post-9/11 era and even during periods of low national unemployment. The fact remains: a veteran with a catastrophic disability is three to eight times more likely to remain under or unemployed than the general population.

Paralyzed Veterans of America launched its own veterans jobs initiative, PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment), in 2007 to confront rampant unemployment among the most underserved veterans in our society. Through PAVE, we have educated employers, partnered with corporations and changed self-expectations in veterans who simply needed the resources, encouragement and opportunity to reach their full work potential.



The PAVE Program is currently providing core services, such as resume building, military skills translation and interview coaching, to more than 1,600 hard-to-place clients; and more than 3,200 OEF/OIF/OND veterans, many among the most disabled, receive extended support through our jobs, health and benefits programs. In addition, we have partnered with over 400 employers, including well known companies like Microsoft, Best Buy and Walgreens, to pave access for veteran employment.

This brings me back to Walmart’s new initiative, and why it’s critical for the government, corporate and social sectors to take note of this example of a bold ambition to tackle a huge problem. We have helped numerous veterans with disabilities exceed expectations. Despite suffering a spine injury in the Marines in 2002, I have managed to earn a graduate degree from a top university, raise a family (including a newborn baby) and oversee a multimillion dollar nationwide program, all from the “confines” of a wheelchair. For me, it was opportunity, not charity, that made me a tax-paying participant in society despite my disability.

Through our PAVE Program, I believe we can replicate – and hopefully exceed – my success for hundreds of veterans. And we can do so by working with trend setters like Walmart to give every veteran, disabled or otherwise, a shot at the American dream: a great career with a great company. Our mission-ready program stands ready to work with ALL employers who are willing to join the effort.

Sherman Gillums Jr. began his military career in the Marine Corps when he enlisted at the age of 17 and quickly ascended into leadership, retiring as a chief warrant officer. As he prepared to deploy to Afghanistan with the 1st Marine Division in 2002, Gillums was involved in a vehicle collision, leaving him severely disabled and ending his military career at the age of 29. Following the accident, Gillums received an honorable discharge from military service and went on to pursue a new career in disabled veteran advocacy. During his military career, he earned two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, one Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a War on Terror Service Medal.

Gillums began his career with Paralyzed Veterans as a national service officer in San Diego, where he developed VA benefits claims and clinical appeals for veterans and families in the area. He later became involved with the local Paralyzed Veterans chapter, and went on to become the chapter’s president. He also served on Paralyzed Veterans of America’s National Field Advisory Committee. After earning a master’s degree from the University of San Diego, he returned to the VA benefits claims arena as a Paralyzed Veterans appellate representative at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington, DC, before accepting his current position as associate executive director of veterans benefits.