Liles shares her story during NHB’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month ceremony.
Image by Douglas Stutz.
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Charlene Liles, outpatient medical records technician, processes approximately 100 weekly requests for release of information at Naval Hospital Bremerton’s (NHB) Medical Records Department. The electronic mail, postal service, and fax machine requests are her obligation, and then some. She’s ready and responsible for any requirement.

It’s that professional capability, as well as personal ability, that NHB underscored in recognizing October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

“Charlene is our first line of defense at Medical Records. Huge contributor to the team! When she is out for any reason, it is quite noticeable. Her workload can be different every day, and other staff voice how hectic their day is going to be if they are the one who has to cover her position,” said Tim Severtson, NHB Medical Records administrator.

The NDEAM theme for 2018 was “America’s Workforce: Empowering All,” and the NHB Diversity Council coordinated the event to commemorate the contributions of Liles and others with disabilities who shared their stories to educate other staff members about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.

“I’ve been here for a few years, and to hold this ceremony means a lot. Feels good to be honored and recognized,” said Liles.

Liles began her career working for the Department of Defense in 1983 with her initial job as a clerk-typist at Fort Ord, California, in 1983. From there she moved to Hawaii to work at Tripler Army Medical Center/Schofield Barracks before relocating to Washington and starting at NHB in 1991.

As a guest speaker for the ceremony, Liles acknowledged her appreciation to the command for recognizing those with disabilities.

“It is nice to be here. Naval Hospital Bremerton has made accommodations for me over the years. There is leadership support, and my boss, Mr. Tim Severtson, is very cool. My legs were amputated when I was little, but my boss doesn’t see me as just that,” Liles said, acknowledging that as appreciative as she is to be considered a valued member of the team, she has also experienced having to deal with narrow-mindedness.

“I have noticed that some people have had different reactions over the years, and I have felt the discrimination and the silent treatment. There has been many challenges, and I feel like I have needed to work harder at times,” Liles shared.

Liles is not alone. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are 40.7 million–or 12.8 percent of the total civilian (noninstitutionalized) population–with a disability in the U.S. Of that total, only 7.5 million from age 18 to 64 with a disability are employed.

“People with disability can do anything,” said Jeff Dolven, president and chief executive officer of Skookum Contract Services. “They have the ability. All they need is a chance to be of value. A huge shout-out to the Navy who contract with us. We have 30 employees at NHB, including those with a disability. They make a positive impact every day.”

Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman, NHB commanding officer, agreed. “We simply cannot accomplish what we do without them…. Our success is dependent upon leveraging the diverse skills, talents, and experience of every sailor and civilian. Every person is valued. When we embrace diversity and inclusion as a true force multiplier, we will find that the sum of our actions as an organization are far greater than our individual efforts.”

This article was adapted from an original story by Douglas Stutz.