Multi-phase Veteran Engagement Leads to First Survey Tailored to Address Employment Barriers and Strategies for Injured Veterans

Understanding the lived experiences of veterans who are striving to work may help reduce high unemployment after spinal cord injury

Black woman with eyeglasses and wearing white turtle neck
Dr. Denise Fyffe is senior research scientist in

the Centers for Spinal Cord Injury and

Outcomes and Assessment Research at Kessler



East Hanover, NJ. May 1, 2023. A team of researchers have adapted the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey (KFNEDS) to reflect the employment experiences of veterans living with spinal cord injury, a population with chronically high unemployment. They discussed this process in, “Multi-phase Veteran engagement to develop a spinal cord injury employment survey,” (DOI: 10.1353/cpr.2023.006), published in Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action on March 17, 2023. The team comprised experts from Kessler Foundation, James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, University of Florida, and Quality of Life Advisors.

Link to abstract:

The KFNEDS was the first nationally representative survey that focused on how Americans with disabilities are striving to work. This survey of 3,013 people with disabilities, aged 18 to 64, showed that the majority of people with disabilities were striving to work and overcoming barriers to the workforce. However, because the survey was conducted across disability conditions, adaptation was required to reflect the employment experiences of veterans with spinal cord injury. To adapt the survey, the team engaged veterans with spinal cord injury through collaboration, participation, consultation, and involvement throughout the study.

Guided by three resources, Engaging Veterans in Research, Toolkit for Veteran Engagement in Research, and the Veterans Engagement Toolkit, the team partnered with community groups to form a study-specific Community Action Board. The Board partnered with the research team to adapt and revise the Survey and pretest the KFNEDS-Veteran Survey.

“To our knowledge, the KFNEDS-Veteran Survey is the first survey developed to assess employment barriers encountered by veterans with spinal cord injury, and the strategies they use to find jobs and stay in the workplace,” said lead author Denise Fyffe, PhD, senior research scientist in the Centers for Spinal Cord Injury and Outcomes and Assessment Research at Kessler Foundation. “It’s important to have this veteran-specific employment survey because these veterans have unique employment needs and high rates of unemployment, more than ten times that of the general population,” she emphasized. “Finding out how they achieve success will help others who are striving to work.”

The KFNEDS-Veteran Survey performed well in pretesting and will undergo validation and reliability testing. “Our goal is to extend this survey to a large sample of veterans with spinal cord injury,” Dr. Fyffe added, “and learn more about how employers approach hiring, accommodating, and advancing these veterans.”

Funding: US Dept. of Defense, CDMRP, Spinal Cord Injury Research Program award # W81XWH-17-1-0696; National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research grant # 90SI5026.

Citation: Fyffe, D.C., Cotner, B.A., Ottomanelli, L., Quinn, A., Ching, D., Clark, C.T., Tobin P., O'Neill, J. (2023). Multiphase Veteran Engagement to Develop a Spinal Cord Injury Employment Survey. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action 17(1), 13-24.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.

For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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