Bridging the gap between veterans and health care jobs

Veterans in the workplace

Laura Hanoski, founder of Heroes for Health Care, at the Great Lakes Naval Museum after delivering a presentation for veterans transitioning to civilian life.

As co-founders of Premier Medical Staffing Services in West Allis, Laura Hanoski and her husband Mark have seen the roadblocks that prevent veterans from landing health care jobs in the civilian world.

In many cases, a credentialing mismatch stands in the way.   

Laura Hanoski, founder of Heroes for Health Care, at the Great Lakes Naval Museum after delivering a presentation for veterans transitioning to civilian life.

While many veterans’ medical experience might be comparable to – or even surpass – that of a civilian health care worker, many haven’t secured the certifications and licensures needed to apply for those jobs.

For Laura, that gap became particularly stark during a sobering conversation with the father of a veteran at a job fair at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. The man’s son served as a corpsman, a role in which he gained plenty of medical experience. But because he lacked credentials, his son was turned down from health care jobs left and right. The son became depressed and spent much of his time drinking in his father’s basement. Seven of the men in his platoon had already committed suicide, the father said.

“That was a really hard thing for a parent to tell me,” Hanoski said. “These guys are saving our lives and we’re not doing anything for them. There, a hero and here, to be told what you have done isn’t significant and doesn’t count. That particular day, I realized we have to do something. As a health care organization, I felt that we were obligated.”

It became the motivation for her new nonprofit, Heroes for Health Care, which Hanoski launched earlier this year with the goal of providing veterans with resources to continue their career in health care as civilians. The organization’s services include career planning, housing and relocation help, resume writing and job counseling. The organization received its 501(c)3 status in March.

The organization, which is entirely volunteer-run, leans heavily on its board. Hanoski, who worked as a nurse prior to starting Premier Medical Staffing, said the board members were hand-picked for their expertise. They include a human resources professional, a VA nurse, a surgeon who served in the Army, an adult education professional, and a realtor with certifications related to veteran relocation, among others.

Rachel Radtke, a client manager with Premier Medical Staffing, joined the board, compelled by Laura’s “contagious passion.”

Radtke said what sets Heroes for Health Care apart is that it addresses problems in a practical and tangible way, rather than simply brainstorming solutions.

“I like that we can be a one-stop shop,” she said. “It’s not ‘Go call this person and then go to this website…’ and giving people a list of things that people need to do themselves. If you’ve ever been on a job hunt, that gets overwhelming – even when you’re not trying to transition from the military to the civilian world.”

Having served in the Army Reserve Medical Corps from 1990 to 1998, Don Zoltan, a board member and orthopedic surgeon with Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Center in Greenfield, said the organization’s mission resonates with him.

“During that time, especially while on active duty during Desert Storm in 1991, I had the pleasure of working with many excellent Army-trained medical personnel,” Zoltan said. “Of particular note were the orthopedic physician assistants, whose knowledge and expertise was outstanding, equal to or surpassing most people working in a similar capacity in the civilian world.”

But, Zoltan said, comparable positions outside of the military don’t exist, and the need for job counseling and guidance once veterans leave the military inspired his involvement with the organization.

Hanoski regularly delivers presentations during the Naval Station Great Lakes program for those transitioning out of the military, but to expand its reach, she plans to record the presentation for wider distribution.

Heroes for Health Care is also partnering with a college in Illinois to create a “corpsman to LPN” curriculum that will accelerate the process for a military medic to receive credentialing. Hanoski hopes to encourage more colleges to adopt the curriculum, which could cut the process in half and reduce the cost significantly for veterans.

The organization is currently raising funds in hopes of providing financial assistance to families that meet specific criteria, particularly veterans who want to return to school to obtain their health care credentials but can’t afford to take the time off of work.

Hanoski said the biggest priority for the organization, being in its infancy stages, is raising awareness that it exists to fill a gap.

“To me, that’s the biggest thing: getting the word out that we’re here and that we can help,” she said.

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