The U.S. Air Force arguably leads the services in getting its wounded troops hired after they medically retire or separate, at least when it comes to speed.
The Air Force Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch and Air Force Wounded Warrior Program stay in contact with injured airmen (from active service, the Air National Guard and the Air Force reserve), talking with them at least monthly from their initial medical evaluation to keep up on their progress and help them secure employment.
Betty Schuster, chief of the Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch; Air Force Wounded Warrior Program Manager Lt. Col. David Bringhurst and Brian Churchill, a consultant in the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program; discussed some of the cases they’ve seen in the Air Force.
Right now, the Air Force Wounded Warrior program is working with about 860 wounded servicemembers. Case managers become an airman’s advocate for life, Churchill said.
“We focus on employment, whether that’s a job, or education, or an internship,” he said, adding that the breadth of job openings for civilians in the Air Force helps in finding opportunities.
Churchill spoke of a chief master sergeant who had more than 20 years of service and had a debilitating case of post-traumatic stress. It took multiple approaches by the Wounded Warrior program, but eventually they induced him to use the Air Force’s Central Salary Account, a fund designed by the Air Force to help wounded airmen transition.
Using the CSA, the Air Force can create 18-month jobs where there might not be an opening or the proper funding, so wounded airmen can get a job that matches their qualifications and experience, in the area they’d prefer to work. Ideally, Churchill said, in that time the local leadership can acquisition the money to hire the person full-time.
If there’s a planned or set retirement date, the Air Force can even plan ahead of time to get them work. After medically retiring in May, the chief master sergeant was employed as a GS-12 in July. In one case, Bringhurst recalled, an airman had a job waiting for him – schedule conflicts delayed his starting for two weeks, but the job was guaranteed beforehand.
“The Department of Defense (DOD) is unique in that there a both civilian and military positions. Veterans find this as a great opportunity for employment when they transition from the military due to the fact that within DOD, military and civilian personnel work side-by-side doing similar work,” Churchill said. “Because of this, numerous DOD civilian positions have the same or similar skill requirements as their military counterparts. This translates into immediate job opportunities utilizing the skills and talents gained while serving in the military. Wounded Warriors are no exception and find DOD employment a great opportunity when their military career is abruptly ended and they are leaving the service sooner than planned.”
Many wounded airmen and businesses share a common confusion when it comes to translating military roles into civilian equivalencies, Schuster said. For a civilian, it could take decades before they’re in a management position overseeing more than a dozen people. But an NCO can be leading that many troops by their mid-20s.
Sometimes it’s hard for the airman to accept that he’s qualified for positions that ask for a certain number of years experience, or for jobs at a higher pay grade; sometimes it’s hard for an employer to understand that leadership experience comes sooner in the military than in a civilian company’s hierarchy.
“In the military you are promoted or awarded positions of higher authority because of demonstrated performance, abilities, leadership and management skills,” Churchill said. “In the military, selection for a supervisory, leadership or management position is not determined by a resume or interview so when a wounded warrior separates from the military, writing their military experience using a resume format and civilian terminology so civilian employers will understand can be a challenge.”
Churchill said changing the stigma surrounding “disability” as a concept has been a challenge. But as companies learn what they need to do to accommodate disabled veterans and understand what they get in return for that investment, the stigma quickly disappears.
“Disability does not mean inability and many are gifted with aptitude, character, talent and loyalty. Employers who hire people with disabilities have an opportunity to create a positive image and model corporate responsibility to those who have sacrificed much in service to our nation,” Churchill said. “Wounded warriors may often be more employable since they have been required to adapt in many ways. The mental and/or physical challenges they face on a daily basis have taught them to be innovative, dedicated, persistent, and to think outside the box in everyday life.”
Through the rest of this month, DoDLive will be featuring different offices from around the services, highlighting what the Department of Defense and the military services are doing to help injured servicemembers find employment after leaving the military.
More information on Department of Defense policy as it relates to hiring disabled workers can be found here.