Veteran transition program helps put combat medics back to work

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- It's hard to believe, but until recently, experience as a combat medic did not count for much back at home. As vets sought certification in the health care field, many learned that their skills and training did not count towards credit.

But one Valley health care group is working to change that, and is also working to put vets to work.

Combat medics are trained to handle medical care, literally under fire. But when they come back home, those skills are very often not being utilized. In fact, there are 20,000 combat medic and corpsmen who are unemployed.

Now, John C. Lincoln Health Network is changing all that. JCL has championed changes that give credit for military service, when those returning vets seek certification. JCL is also trying to find them work right now to keep them in service.

“We just try to help them in any way we can,” says Lewis Williams, a transition specialist at John C. Lincoln.

Williams is used to helping people. First he served his country in the US Army, and now is serving his fellow citizens, one at a time, on the front lines of health care.

Williams is a transition specialist at John C. Lincoln Health Network.

“We are available 24/7. They can call us at two in the morning if they feel like it,” he says. “We will answer the phone call and try to help them out with whatever that issue might be.“

Program director Karen Jones explains what the team does. "The transition specialist team is a group of veterans, primarily prior combat medics," she says. “This team reaches out to Medicare patients who belong to the John C. Lincoln Accountable Care Organization.” 

Their job? “They go and meet with them [patients] inside the hospital during their admission," Jones says. "Then they help transition them to their home, or perhaps a skilled nursing facility.”

Williams is one of the few team members who was not a combat medic. He gravitated to health care after leaving the service, eventually finding his calling here.

“So I kind of just went and did my EMT, just to do it. And ended up loving it. And then pulled on over to the medical side,” he explains.

Jones says what makes this program so unique is that it fills two needs. “This is a transition program not only for the patients, but for the veterans.“

And she says that military service pays off not only in experience, but also in credibility. “I think it builds an immediate rapport and a trust level with the patients.”

On their visits to patients like Ruth Ebner, Williams follows up on everything from immediate care needs and questions to longer term quality of life issues. “And we will check for their medications, to make sure they have all their medications, everything they need. A safety check. We will go through the house and make sure they have their fire alarm set up, and if they need any shower bars.”

The program has drastically cut re-admission rates for patients involved, while also giving our veterans a new opportunity to serve. “So now you are out there helping take care of people who don't have anything else," says Williams. "It is the most rewarding part, I would say."