Last week, I flew into Pittsburgh on Monday and drove to Boswell, Pennsylvania, to a campsite called Outdoor Odyssey. I was invited to attend and speak at a COMPASS Transition Program for combat-wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. COMPASS is an intensive five-day veteran reintegration program developed and sponsored by the Veteran Employment Transition (VET) Foundation. Started in 2006 by Chris Hadsall and Liz Young, the VET Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to providing service-disabled veterans with career resources and comprehensive support as they transition from the military to the civilian world. Chris Hadsall is Executive Director of the VET Foundation. As a service-disabled veteran himself, he is a Purple Heart recipient and a retired Captain from the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Chris received his wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2005. Liz Young is CEO of Arbiser Machine Building Company in Tucker, Georgia. As one of the founders of the VET Foundation, Liz serves on its Board of Directors. It was a sincere pleasure meeting both Chris and Liz at the retreat.
I also had the complete honor of meeting Tom Jones, a retired USMC major general, who started Outdoor Odyssey in 1999, a leadership youth camp for at-risk kids. General Jones also leads and facilitates many of the COMPASS Retreats that are held at Outdoor Odyssey. A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes General Jones and the COMPASS experience to the tee. “It’s all about genuine care and concern,” General Jones explained. “COMPASS gives these young veterans hope for change. Everyone here is focused on helping them move forward.” The commitment and undying dedication of General Jones, and all those involved in COMPASS, to help our wounded warriors is simply outstanding.
Bob Foley, University Programs Manager at Raytheon Company, also serves on the Board of Directors for the VET Foundation, and was at the COMPASS retreat as well. Bob plays a key role in managing Raytheon’s veteran hiring initiatives, where Raytheon seeks disabled war veterans for technical positions. The example Raytheon is setting for other employers in hiring disabled veterans is exemplary, and Bob knows first-hand the assets these veterans can bring to employers who exhibit genuine care and concern for our wounded warriors. “The reality is that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are not a sign of weakness, and they can affect the strong and the brave just like everyone else,” stated Bob. “Some of the most successful officers and enlisted personnel have experienced PTSD and TBI. Employers can help by learning how veterans may react after being in a war zone, and one of the best things employers can do is to support the hiring of service-disabled veterans.”
The whole COMPASS experience touched my heart deeply, and I literally left there a changed person. Since then, there hasn’t been a day that has gone by where I haven’t thought about it and all the returning veterans who need our sincere help and attention. To all the employers out there, I urge you to learn more about PTSD and TBI. The National Organization on Disability provides some helpful guides with best practices for hiring veterans with disabilities, including Common Employer Questions About Returning Service Members with TBI and/or PTSD, Productivity Support for People with PTSD, and Welcoming Service Members and Veterans Home. By learning more about PTSD and TBI, and by personally meeting many of the veterans who are working through these and other injuries, you will soon realize that most wounded warriors who seek assistance from others recognize they experience common reactions to trauma and often return to normal, given time. They simply need our support! So please consider taking the time to further explore what the VET Foundation offers and consider supporting their mission by not only hiring the service-disabled veterans they serve, but by donating to their cause so we can help many more veterans successfully make the transition from the war zone to a fulfilling civilian life. After what these veterans have done for America, we certainly owe it to them! It’s just the right thing to do, so let’s work together to make a difference in the lives of these deserving veterans.