The statistics are mind-numbing and horrific.
- The unemployment rate for Gulf War veterans increased from 7.7 percent in July 2013 to 10 percent in August 2013 (Department of Labor).
- At least 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or depression; 50 percent of those with PTSD do not seek treatment (Congressional Research Service).
- 2 million military family members have sought psychiatric help (ANZJP).
- So far, more than 260,000 veterans from OIF and OEF have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (News21).
- Veterans are killing themselves at more than double the rate of the civilian population, with about 49,000 taking their own lives between 2005 and 2011 (NBC News).
- More military veterans have taken their lives than all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan combined (NBC News)
- A military veteran commits suicide once every 18 hours (CNN).
Here in Illinois, more than 72,000 men and women have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. Because an estimated 31 percent of troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan with a mental health condition or traumatic brain injury (TBI), we can assume that these conditions affect more than 22,000 Illinois service members, along with 60,000 or more of their family members (Social Impact Research Center).
Recognizing the needs of Chicago area veterans and their families, Rush University Medical Center has developed a plan that leverages our unique strengths to create the Rush Center for Veterans and their Families. Our mission is to improve the lives of service members who deployed in support of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and have returned to civilian life with combat-related conditions such as PTSD or TBI. As part of this effort, Rush Information Services is working with local community colleges and our vendor partners to develop a workforce transition program for military members and their families.
The concept is fairly simple: it’s all about the veteran.
Rush Information Services has set up a 6-month temporary stipend opportunity to train military veterans in key healthcare IT technologies. Working 32 hours per two-week pay period, the program allows for individualized work, flexibility, learning and growing in the healthcare IT field. The ultimate goal during this training is to make the veteran competitive in healthcare fields where technology opportunities exist.
We have three primary objectives:
- Develop skills to obtain a job in health IT. To leverage partnerships with community colleges and our IT vendor community to create opportunities for veterans and their families to learn new healthcare based IT skills, making them competitive and employable in three to six months.
- Be part of a focused leading-edge program. At the entry level, veterans will replace PCs with new virtual devices that will enhance user access, save money, and improve IT security. These replacement devices will need to be set up and configured by a dedicated team at the rate of 200 per month. The timeframe for this engagement is September 2013 through December 2015. Veterans with advanced skills coming in will be given more challenging projects to help maximize their potential.
- Tell their story. Veterans will engage with Rush employees, sharing their experiences and history and creating a greater understanding of life in the military and the sacrifices and services they made to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy.
When the veterans are ready, Rush Information Services will provide mock job interviews, résumé support, and personal recommendations to potential employers from myself and the engineers that have worked with the veterans.
We have hired our first wave of veterans and the deployment of VDI clients has begun. Training is being aligned with their arrival and processes are being put into place for training and vocational support. For veterans in long-term care, we will hire the spouse or the 18-year-old who is currently flipping burgers but is a whiz with a smartphone. This is something the VA cannot do.
We will expand skills based upon initiative and talent. A VDI rollout might be boring for someone who set up a data center in Bahrain, so we will quickly move them into a more mature technology. Remember, this is not about staff augmentation, nor is it a pipeline for hiring personnel for Rush. This is a program for veterans to get a job somewhere else, and it’s a repeatable model that other healthcare institutions can follow.
I must admit, it’s not often that I get excited about hiring someone that I know is not going to work for me very long. But I am so proud of the young men and women we are bringing into this new program. They already have the desirable skills we all seek in new hires: character, respect, dedication, loyalty, and service. I will be even more proud of them when they leave in three to six months, advancing to successful healthcare IT careers simply because they were given a chance to leverage the character and potential they already possessed.