Helping Corporate Leaders and Military Families Thrive During the Pandemic

Our nation faces a grave crisis. And this crisis has unique implications for our military community, including active duty service members, veterans, and military families.

Jon Horowitch is a 2018 Bush Institute Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar and President & CEO of Easterseals DC MD VA

Our nation faces a grave crisis. And this crisis has unique implications for our military community, including active duty service members, veterans, and military families.  

The COVID-19 Military Support Initiative , a partnership with the Association of Defense Communities (ADC), Blue Star Families, and participants of the White Oak Collaborative, releases a weekly poll that measures key issues facing military families. According to a March 25 to 31 poll, 37 percent of military spouses and 28 percent of veteran respondents or their spouses already lost their jobs, were unable to work, or had their hours reduced. Two weeks later in the April 8 to 14 poll, 36 percent of respondents who had no previous diagnosis of anxiety or depression were exhibiting symptoms as a result of the crisis.  

To help our community meet these challenges, it’s wonderful to draw on the life lessons the incredible leaders shared during the George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, which I was a part of in 2018. Consistently they noted that we cannot control the crisis, but we can control our reactions to it.  

During one particular session, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald shared the ease of turning inward, forgetting about the customer, and focusing on survival during a crisis. To me, therefore, a test of leadership is countering that instinct and instead remembering that the customer is the reason for everything an organization does. Without the customer, the organization does not exist.  

That is why in my work at Easterseals DC MD VA, we are re-imagining our services to meet our clients’ emergency needs now and their new needs when the crisis abates.  

Employment Resources for Companies, Veterans, Military Family Members, and Active Duty Preparing for Transition  

Growing the Veteran Staffing Network (VSN), Easterseals’ social venture employment program, to be self-sustaining was my Personal Leadership Project during my time participating in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program. It energizes me because it combines providing free career coaching and placement support to the military community with helping businesses recruit top-tier talent to meet their needs to create an ongoing, sustainable source of revenue to support the free services to military families.  

Social venture donations are helping us build the program, but ultimately its success requires companies to hire the VSN to recruit direct hires, temp-to-perm, or temp positions instead of another agency or recruiting internally. That requires customer focus – we must demonstrate value to the business. And we do.  

Candidates we submit get interviews and offers at about twice the rate of typical staffing agencies. That is a huge savings for businesses as they can avoid wading through stacks of unqualified resumes.  

The high interview and offer rates are also a testament to the quality of the free coaching services VSN provides. Again, customer focus drives success. Before VSN, we saw time and again veterans struggling in their job searches and careers, and often the problems started because they weren’t working in an area that interested them.  

That’s why part of our service to veterans and military spouses includes identifying skills and interests. Armed with a clear goal, we then help them craft an appropriate resume, learn to answer interview questions effectively, and ultimately thrive in their careers. Active duty personnel can also access this training, so they can pursue educational and career-focused opportunities that will help them transition successfully to civilian life.  

For example, Chinedu Ogbulie, a veteran of the Army Reserve, was living in the DC region and had 10 years’ experience in accounting. He came to the VSN after an unsuccessful 7-month job search. Our coach worked with Chinedu to analyze his interests, update his resume, practice interviewing, and research companies.   

At that moment VSN had no openings in his area of interest, so our coach helped Chinedu focus his search and target CVS Health as an ideal company to pursue his goal of retail management. Within two days of applying he was invited to an interview, and within a week he was offered a position.  

Even during this pandemic, our services continue to be available to veterans, military spouses, and companies. Unemployed, furloughed, or underemployed veterans or military spouses can use our coaching. Companies who need staff can hire VSN to fill critical essential positions with talent from the veteran and military communities, who are already adept at change and highly skilled in management, operations and logistics.  

Mental Health Care Support  

Unfortunately, mental health often receives far less focus and attention than physical health, but without good mental health other aspects of life, including employment, will suffer. That is whyEasterseals partnered with the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) to establish the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals. We’re providing high-quality, evidence-based behavioral health care to veterans (regardless of discharge status), military families, and now even members of active duty personnel who are referred by their branch.  

The team, led by Dr. Tracy Neal-Walden (COL USAF, Ret.), has successfully transitioned to serving over 125 therapy sessions every week through telehealth. As you might expect, providing these services safely from therapists’ homes required innovation and preparation, and I’m so proud of the way the team rose to the challenge.  

During the pandemic, members of the military community can access our high-quality mental health services in a timely manner and connect with others for support through our virtual events, which are open to all veterans and military families across the nation. 

Our clinic is one of 15 locations that are part of the Cohen Veterans Network, which is a member of the Bush Institute’s Warrior Wellness Alliance, helping more veterans get high-quality mental health care. If you or a loved one needs care now or in the future, please visit their website to find the closest location.  

Together we can ensure that our service members, veterans, and military families get the support they need, both during trying times like these and in the future.