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Employees with disabilities offer unique perspective

Employees with disabilities offer unique perspective

John Juppe, 66th Logistics Readiness Squadron cargo specialist, processes incoming cargo at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Oct. 8. Each October National Disability Employment Awareness Month recognizes the contributions of employees with disabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jerry Saslav)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Each October National Disability Employment Awareness Month organizers seek to educate people about disability employment as well as to recognize the contributions of employees with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s theme this year is "The Right Talent, Right Now."

"Individuals with disabilities add significant value and talent to Team Hanscom," said Master Sgt. Johan Pereira, NDEAM committee chair here. "These individuals provide diverse perspectives on how to tackle challenges and achieve mission success in their respective organizations."

The month-long observance traces its beginnings to 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the use of the word "physically" ceased in order to include individuals with all types of disabilities.

Among them are veterans who suffered life-changing injuries during combat.

“I was injured twice during the Vietnam War in 1967,” said John Juppe, 66th Logistics Readiness Squadron cargo specialist.

The longtime Hanscom employee enlisted in the Army in 1966 after high school and was in Vietnam a few months later with a light infantry division.

“It was like a thunderstorm there; everything was shaking including the earth,” he said, while describing what overnight security was like while B-52s dropped bombs.

Juppe earned two Purple Hearts during his one-year tour. The first came in March 1967 when he tore 98 percent of his ring finger off when the enemy ambushed his unit.

“The finger was re-attached and after a little physical therapy, I was right back in the field because I was needed,” he said.

The other injury occurred while crawling through a tunnel searching for the enemy.

“I was chasing the [Viet Cong] and one of them jammed a punji stick [booby trapped stake] through my groin,” Juppe said.

His combat-related injuries did not result in a visible disability, but the month-long observance does not differentiate.

“It’s important we recognize the contributions of employees with all types of disabilities,” Juppe said. “Veterans with disabilities have often overcome so much that we provide a perspective other employees might not have.”

Learn more about National Disability Employment Awareness Month at https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/.