Dedication. Innovation. Leadership. Problem solving. These are just a few of the crucial elements of what make a strong contributor to the growing and changing senior living industry in America. They also happen to be characteristics of a group of largely untapped workers and thinkers: the nation’s veterans.

On Sept. 10, Jeffery “Doc” Sinchak, a U.S. Navy veteran who works with the Wounded Warrior Project, addressed a gathering of the Executive Operators Forum at Direct Supply in Milwaukee, Wis. The audience included the members of the Executive Operators Forum, a collaborative group of executive-level operations leaders within post-acute care and senior living, as well as a number of veterans employed by Direct Supply.

Veterans Live With Remembered Trauma

Sinchak urged the audience to think of the many forgotten veterans living among other Americans in cities and organizations. Because of their sacrifice, they experience complications, challenges, and sometimes despair. And, as Sinchak pointed out, it’s time for a conversation about hope for these individuals.

Sinchak talked fondly of the men and women he served with during his 24 years of honorable service in the Navy. Those lifelong friendships were born of struggle and adversity, as well as good times, and Sinchak drew a parallel between that team and the senior living profession team.

“In your organizations, you’re changing lives,” Sinchak said. He reminded his audience that the seniors they serve want to be cared for and comforted, and absolutely everyone in the industry is needed for that goal, from IT departments and teams fixing the HVAC, to cooks and technicians.

Personal Tales

Sinchak talked about his personal adversity, and how his own service was cut short due to injury when the Iraq hotel where he stayed was bombed. What he remembers most vividly from that day are the bloody footprints of the people fleeing the building and his own duty and desire to help everyone he could. Those people he couldn’t save haunted his dreams for years upon returning home, and he didn’t always know how to handle the weight of those memories, just like so many men and women returning home every year.

“I couldn’t manage it,” he said. That’s what made coming home so difficult for him. In fact, he described coming home from duty as one of the worst days of his life, because he was leaving his team behind.
When Sinchak returned home to his family in 2004, he faced many challenges. He described watching his two sons play football, a game he was always so proud of and passionate about, and yet he felt no emotional connection.

“I was managing my physical, emotional, and psychological challenges by myself,” he recalled. Sinchak expressed hope, though, that this doesn’t always have to be the case for men and women who have served their country and returned. They often feel completely isolated and alone, but they don’t have to, he said.

Veterans Empathize With Adversity

“You want to solve some of the challenges today in your industry?” Sinchak asked. “Ask some of the brightest and best to do that—the ones who have been wounded. These veterans are game changers. They’ve already demonstrated courage and innovation. And your teams suffer when they’re not on them.”
Sinchak pointed out that those in senior living are in a changing industry, and there are hundreds and thousands of men and women in this country who are ready and capable to help with those changes. They are veterans with skills. They are technicians, chefs, communicators, and IT professionals, and they all need jobs.

Gainful Employment Gives Veterans New Lease on Life

Meaningful employment, according to the project, saves people, brings them onto a team, and shows them their leadership wasn’t lost when they survived their combat experience. Sinchak said the most important thing the project provides is a measure of accountability for the veterans.

The project does not write their resumés, but rather gives them the skills to write resumés themselves. The project also provides coaching, as well as helps with the interview process, connections with internships, and much more.

The Wounded Warrior Project helps veterans of the U.S. military who have served on active duty post-9/11 and have been wounded in mind, body, or spirit re-enter the workforce upon returning home. The goal of the Wounded Warrior Project is to foster the most well-adjusted generation of veterans in U.S. history.

They don’t deserve a job, Sinchak stressed, but rather, they’ve earned it. He asked every senior living leader to consider veterans in their hiring practices. “It’s not entitlement, ladies and gentlemen,” Sinchak said, “it’s empowerment.”
Mary Evans is executive vice president at Covenant Care at The Resource Center in Aliso Viejo, Calif. She is Col USAF, retired.