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James J. Peters VA Medical Center
VA Helps Military Medics Transition
By Tom Cramer, VHA Communications
Tuesday, July 2, 2013VA Helping Military Medics Transition to Civilian Jobs
The Department of Veterans Affairs is hiring former military medics and corpsmen to work in its emergency rooms nationwide. The new initiative is producing some fairly impressive results for both VA and the veterans it cares for.
During his 20 years in the Army, Paul Singleton held a lot of different jobs. He was a urology technician at Brook Army Medical Center in Texas; a medical platoon sergeant with the 557 Medical Evacuation Company at Wiesbaden Airfield, Germany; and a medical corpsman in the pediatric clinic at Womack Army Hospital, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to name a few.
But when he retired from the military in 2004 Singleton, like a lot of medics and corpsmen, had a hard time finding a healthcare job in the civilian world. In addition to his struggle to find employment, Singleton's life took a few other unpredictable twists and turns, not all of them good. For reasons he would rather not elaborate on, he often found himself living on the edge, struggling to get by. He kept a roof over his head by staying with various friends or family members.
Despite his troubles, however, it seemed to be in Singleton's nature to look at the glass as half full. "I wasn't living in my car," he pointed out, good-naturedly.
As fate would have it, Singleton's glass unexpectedly got a little fuller one day when Ruth Batista walked into his life.
"I met Paul in August 2012 when I went to the Bronx VA Medical Center to talk with him about our housing program," said Batista, a residential contract coordinator with the New York Harbor VA Harlem Community Resource & Referral Center. "At that time, and for some time afterward, he told me he didn't like the idea of living in a shelter, of sharing his living space with strangers. He stayed in contact with me, though."
Batista said she was immediately impressed with Singleton's honesty, and his discipline.
"He always knew what he was able to manage, and when," she explained. "He always took things one step at time. If he wasn't ready to handle something, he would tell me. For that reason, he was a pleasure to work with."
A little less than a year later, Singleton was ready to make the leap. He contacted Batista, who promptly got him into a VA-funded shelter in the Bronx.
"He also told me he was looking for employment, so I explored his employment history and learned he was a medic while in the service" she explained. "I told him about our Intermediate Care Technician program. He seemed very interested, so I helped him get his paperwork together and assisted him in getting an interview for an ICT position."
The Intermediate Care Technician is a newly created position in VA emergency rooms. The Department has now hired about 50 former Army medics, Air Force med techs and Navy corpsmen to fill these slots at 15 VA medical center emergency rooms across the country.
These veterans are brought onboard as full-time VA employees who are retained by VA even after they complete the 13-month ICT pilot program.
"While serving as ICTs, they are encouraged to pursue the licenses they need to further advance their careers and become nurses, physician assistants, and doctors," said Bruce Delphia, a former Army medic who now serves as a VA national project manager. "It's a win-win. These former medics and corpsmen want to continue working in the healthcare field, and VA needs skilled healthcare workers."
Ruth Batista said the ICT program has, thus far, definitely been a 'win' for Paul Singleton.
"He's been doing so well now…he'll be a full-time VA employee in November," Batista said. "He's also saving his money and exploring affordable apartments so he can move from the shelter. He's a success story, and I love success stories."
Sylvia Barchue, patient care center director at the Bronx VA Medical Center, is Singleton's second line supervisor. A nurse at the Bronx VA for 31 years, she recognizes good talent when she sees it.
"Paul's always smiling, always happy," she said. "He has a great personality, and he's really hands-on. When we have patients in the emergency department who are nervous or scared, Paul can calm them down. He'll sit with the patient and talk with them. They'll tell each other their 'war stories' from when they were in the military. He's a veteran, so they can relate to him, and he can relate to them.
"He has compassion," observed Maxine Lindsay-Shillingford, a care team manager at the Bronx VA and Singleton's first line supervisor. "He's willing to give of himself. You can't really teach something like that. It has to come from within."
Lindsay-Shillingford (her friends call her 'Max') described Singleton as a 'go-to guy' who can be depended upon.
"When I ask him to do something, like stay beyond his shift, he always says, 'OK,'" she said. "Like today, for example, I'm going to ask him to stay because we have a lot going on here this afternoon, and I know he'll say 'yes."
She also noted that Singleton's skills as a good listener are proving invaluable in her busy emergency room.
"Paul is able to gain a patient's confidence," she said. "He has that ability. He's able to listen….and I mean actively listen. A lot of people don't know how to do that. But when you're talking to Paul, you can tell he's listening to every word you're saying.
"One day I saw him talking to a patient. I kept going back there, at different times during the shift, and each time I went back he was still there, talking with this patient. They were having this calm, back-and-forth dialogue. I later found out this patient had been very agitated when he arrived here; no one could calm him down. So Paul showed up, sat down with him and they just started talking, veteran to veteran. After that, the patient was calm; we didn't have any problems with him at all."
Singleton said talking to and getting to know the veterans who visit his emergency room can be a double-edged sword, since some of the veterans he befriends fail to recover.
"We have some veterans who show up at the ER a lot, due to their numerous health issues," he said. "You talk with them and get to know them. "But then when they pass, it can hit you hard. It gets to you."
Fortunately for Singleton, the good moments in the Bronx VA emergency room appear to be outnumbering the bad ones.
"One of the best parts of this job is when the patients compliment you on your professionalism," said the former Army medic. "When patients arrive here at the ER I talk with them. The main thing I do is give them the respect they deserve. They come in, you give them respect, and they appreciate that.
"I had one patient come in here; his morale was really down. So I sat with him and we talked. After awhile he felt better. He told me he felt like God had sent me to him. That's the kind of thing that keeps me coming to work every morning."
He added: "We have two other ICT's here at the Bronx VA, and they're just like me. We talk to the patients; we give them respect. And the patients tell us: 'We need more of you guys here.'"
VA plans to initiate a second ICT pilot program in 2014. To learn more about it, contact a 'VA for Vets' Career Coach at 1-855-824-8387.