Service to civilian: Local program forges new career path for veterans

Posted at 10:46 AM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 18:22:16-05

SUFFOLK, Va. - With her laptop in hand, Teresa Tolle makes her way to exam room 9. As a clinical care technician for Bon Secours Mercy Health, her schedule calls for a full day of patients.

She's in a civilian healthcare field that she now loves, but that wasn't always the plan.

Joining the Navy in her 20s and climbing through the ranks, Tolle became a Corspman, providing medical help for other Sailors.

"On the ships when you have someone that's dehydrated, the doctor will have you go ahead and start IVs. If someone has a minor cut, you'll go ahead and do a couple of sutures," she said.

However, after 26 years of training and giving medical treatment she said none of it seemed to matter when she retired and entered the civilian world.

"It feels like you're almost starting over," Tolle told News 3 reporter Erin Miller. "In the military, I mean, we do a little bit of everything, but once you get out you're really not qualified to do anything because of credentialing - it doesn't carry over."

Tolle, like so many other military members, find themselves in this position. That includes Gerardo Ramirez.

He said, "It can be pretty frustrating and, you know, scary as well knowing that you're not sure if you're going to be able to use those skills or if you're going to even have a job waiting for you when you get out."

To temper the transition, the Virginia General Assembly established the Military Medics and Corpsmen Program in 2016, and then Governor Northam signed legislation in 2018 to make it permanent.

The program, which was put into action by the Virginia Department of Veteran Services, provides a path to careers in the civilian healthcare industry for recently discharged Army Medics, Navy and Coast Guard Corpsmen and Air Force Medical Technicians.

Even without required civilian healthcare credentials, veterans are hired to put their skills to use as long as it has been less than 12 months since they've practiced hands-on clinical care.

Ramirez is the Military Medics and Corpsmen Program Coordinator for Bon Secours Mercy Health. It's his job to evaluate candidates and, if accepted, place them in positions within the Bon Secours healthcare system.

"No other state has this type of program," Ramirez said. "They can jump right in and pretty much function at the level of an LPN or an RN, almost."

As they work in local facilities, veterans also go to school to gain the healthcare accreditation that they're missing.

The MMAC program acts a stepping stone so they don't have to start from square one.

Ramirez said, "The transition from military life to civilian life sector can be pretty hard and scary at the same time, but this program allows people to kind of transition flawlessly."

Since the program went into effect in Virginia in 2018, Ramirez estimates that they've hired more than 60 veterans from all branches.

There are, however, still some gaps in the system, and Tolle said that finding opportunities like the MMAC program isn't always easy.

"There are programs out there, but they're just not advertised enough or put out there enough for people to know for people to know that they're there," she said.

Luckily, she was given information about the MMAC program by a friend and was placed at a Bon Secours facility within weeks.

Her advice: Be proactive, have a plan and ask questions. She said it's also a good idea to reach out to Virginia Department of Veteran Services before you retire or are discharged.

Ramirez said, "We've helped a lot of people, and I hope we can continue to do that."

Because when your service is done, it's time for Virginia and the MMAC program to serve you.

The MMAC program is partnered with these Virginia healthcare facilities:

  • Bon Secours Mercy Health
  • Riverside
  • Chesapeake Regional Healthcare
  • Sentara
  • Carilion Clinic
  • HCA Healthcare
  • Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
  • Virginia Department of Corrections
  • EVMS