Before he came to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Lt. Col.Ret. Jaime Parent served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. He never saw combat, but while working in information technology in veterans’ hospitals, he saw firsthand the challenges soldiers face while adjusting to civilian life.
“My last station was Walter Reed, and I can’t tell you how many young men and women I’d see sitting in wheelchairs, maybe [with] a couple of limbs missing, 20 years old, smoking cigarettes, listening to their iPods, and they’ve got their whole lives ahead of them,” says Parent, vice president of IT operations and associate chief information officer at Rush.
When leaders of a program at Rush that provides counseling to veterans and their families — called Road Home — asked him to approach IT vendors about making a donation, the wheels started turning. “We have a very hot health care IT career field and, in certain disciplines, we can’t fill jobs quickly enough,” Parent says. “So I said, ‘What if I were able to find a way to train transitioning veterans by not just giving them jobs per se, but by providing training to help them jump-start a career?’ ”
In February, with Rush’s support, Parent launched EN-Abled Veterans. This 13-week program gives veterans who are interested in IT careers paid, on-the-job IT training at Rush. If the vet can’t work because of a disability, family members might be offered the training.
The program also hones job-seeking skills. “The résumés do need a lot of work,” Parent says. “A lot of them include [military] acronyms that nobody understands and that aren’t easily translational to the civilian workforce.”
Participants are paid $12.50 an hour and spend 16 hours a week in the program. They start on the help desk, where they receive a crash course in Rush’s technology and culture. Then they work on the floor, switching office PCs to virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, that in the long term saves the hospital about $600 apiece.
Once the program has been completed, “we deem them to be VDI-certified, and that’s a pretty marketable skill,” Parent says.
Four students have graduated from the program so far, with another class of four underway. Current student Jacob LeGraff, a combat engineer in the Army from 2006 to 2010, did two tours in Iraq. He was trained to identify and demolish explosives, something he hoped to do in the civilian security sector, “but they didn’t want to take the schooling I got from the Army,” he says. “I would have had to go back to school and almost get a master’s degree.”
He “bounced around, doing odds-and-ends jobs for a while,” including as a construction laborer before being laid off. He heard about the Rush program through the National Able Network, a nonprofit workforce development organization he was attending to earn his computer networking certification.
“Now I’m actually learning hands-on and seeing the real-world applications for what I went to school for,” he says. “I don’t know how many people can say that. If we don’t understand something, everyone here is willing to work with us right off the bat, to make sure we understand it and can do it on our own at a later date when the same issue pops up.”
Mark Truitt, a Nike Hercules missile crew member in the Army in the 1980s, heard about the program through a vocational rehabilitation program for veterans. He loved tinkering with computers and had experience working in hospital accounts payable. “Being here — I wouldn’t call it a golden opportunity, I’d call it a platinum opportunity,” Truitt says. “For them to allow us to come in on the ground floor, learn the ins and outs of deploying VDI and PCs throughout the hospital, I could take that anywhere.”
Trevor Stone, manager of information services at Rush and the veterans’ immediate supervisor, says the benefits go both ways. The vets “really help our staff not only to understand their background and what they went through in the armed services, but to give insight into how things work outside of Chicago, outside of Rush,” Stone says. “It’s a big world, and a lot of our people haven’t had that experience. The veterans’ enthusiasm really rubs off on our team members.”