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Washington Community Health Centers Offer "Next Careers" to Veterans

PHOTO: Community Health Centers are working to help veterans make the transition from military life to careers in the health care field, and are in the midst of a three-year initiative to hire at least 8,000 veterans. Photo credit: Scukrov/FeaturePics.com.
PHOTO: Community Health Centers are working to help veterans make the transition from military life to careers in the health care field, and are in the midst of a three-year initiative to hire at least 8,000 veterans. Photo credit: Scukrov/FeaturePics.com.
November 11, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. - Community Health Centers have made a commitment to reach out to veterans - whether they're in need of health care or looking for a career. Essentially local health clinics, these centers see patients no matter their insurance status or ability to pay.

The Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers is part of a statewide coalition hosting job fairs and career seminars for transitioning veterans and family members. The association's CEO, Mary Looker, says military training and teamwork make for strong potential hires - who are much-needed as the Affordable Care Act allows more people to get health care.

"As we work harder on making sure we have a big enough workforce, we see this as an opportunity to provide a 'next career' for returning veterans," says Looker. "If we can make it all line up and work, I think it's a wonderful fit."

Three years ago, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) launched a campaign for local clinics to hire at least 8,000 veterans as part of the "Hiring Heroes" initiative. The group estimates veterans make up as much as 20 percent of the Community Health Center workforce nationwide.

Bureaucratic challenges can sometimes arise when hiring former service members, like when military occupation names and codes don't line up neatly with the state of Washington's health-care licensing requirements. Richard Bohrer, director of network relations with the National Association of Community Health Centers, says that's the kind of dilemma his organization helps with.

"One of the things we try to do is bridge that communication gap, to translate the veteran's experience into the work environment of a health center," he says. "We've also been fortunate to have a number of health center leaders across the country who are veterans themselves."

The Hiring Heroes initiative was launched before the Veterans Administration scandal over long wait times and inadequate care at some V.A. facilities, and a new "Veterans Choice" program was announced this month that will enable veterans to get care outside the V.A. system.

Bohrer says Community Health Centers provided care to about 300,000 veterans last year, many in rural areas far from V.A. hospitals.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA