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Wounded Warrior and Veteran Technology Internship Program

Working with young veterans and wounded service members has presented several challenges; some expected and others I definitely did not anticipate. My previous years working with young adults as a Case Manager haven’t included much interaction with the various branches of the military. Within my first week at the BPOC, it was pretty apparent I had a lot to learn about military hierarchy and protocol. I wasn’t aware of the Wounded Warrior Battalions prior to starting at the BPOC. In fact, I spent a lot of the first week or so learning a lot from our interns. There were plenty of post-it organized lessons involved for me to gain a basic understanding of the military hierarchy and how to address officers.  Good thing I had some chatty interns who served as excellent resources-- and lots of post-its!

Initially, I spent a lot of time at the Naval Medical Center San Diego which is located across the street from the park. The NMCSD is recognized for its innovative, world-class amputee care. Wounded service members from around the world are medevac’d to this hospital for that reason.  It’s also a complex, bureaucratic environment for a civilian newbie to navigate. Without the help of one of my interns in particular, I‘m not sure I would have connected with the right folks.

Challenge #1 – Engaging young service members who expected to have a career in the military. In addition to amputees, there are also a lot of cases of TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries) and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  In a few cases, we had interns stay with our program only until they were discharged from the hospital. Understandably, they were anxious to return to their hometowns and be with their families. We also had a couple of interns who just weren’t ready to handle the stress of even the most low-key office environment.

Challenge #2 – Convincing prospective interns about the benefits of an unpaid internship; even one that’s right across the street. Due to funding requirements, my target population is between the ages of 18 and 24. I am up against some pretty stiff competition due to a combination of donated services from nonprofits and the well-meaning public. Everything from fully sponsored ski trips to video game tournaments. There are a lot of fun activities, as well as medical appointments and therapy sessions, to keep hospital residents busy.

I would love to say that we overcame these challenges easily by doing x, y, and z. I’ve spent the latter half of this program trying many different approaches and it’s never been easy. I found engaging current interns in recruitment was a big help. It also helped to mention that my boss is a former Marine when speaking with both prospective interns and hospital staff. By the way, “former” versus “ex” is the preferred nomenclature.

Thankfully, our funder was open to the idea of expanding the program to veterans under the age of 25. I think having a mix of veterans and active duty interns also helped with the engagement issue. Many of our veterans are pursuing college degrees and/or working in addition to doing this internship. It’s a great opportunity for the interns who are still on active duty to see what life after the military can be like. I find our veterans and active duty folks chat regularly about college and career related topics. I’m certain one of our interns decided to pursue his degree based on these conversations.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with our interns, our program has been an ideal way for soon to be discharged service members to transition to civilian life. What I hear most from them is that the environment we provide is supportive as well as professional. While we expect a certain level of professionalism, we also have to be a little more flexibility than the average work place.  I’ve played the role of Case Manager in addition to recruiter and manager on many occasions. That being said, our interns have been an invaluable resource to the organizations we serve as well as internally. I have yet to receive negative feedback about their work.

--Tracie Umbreit, Project Manager of the Wounded Warrior Technology Internship Program