Published 1/1/2019
Kristen Coultas, Fred Essis

Mentorship Program for Veterans Builds Lives and Congressional Relationships

The 2018 midterm election was considered historic for many reasons and for many groups of people. For veterans, it represented the largest wave of former service members seeking office in nearly a decade, with an unprecedented 173 appearing on the ballot and 77 scheduled to serve in the next Congress. This new cadre of veteran lawmakers could help increase bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and promote the importance of veteran-support programs like the national nonprofit organization American Corporate Partners (ACP).

AAOS partnered with ACP in early 2018 to help post-9/11 veterans transition into the private sector, particularly those interested in health care or business. Through one-on-one counseling, AAOS mentors provide veterans with important tools for long-term career development and the chance to create a better life. Veterans and orthopaedic physicians are matched for one year according to mentoring preferences such as age, sex, and professional interests. At least once a month, they discuss topics like resume and interview preparation, networking, and other professional development topics. Since the partnership began, AAOS has recruited 12 members who are actively engaged in veteran mentoring and continues to accept applications.

One of the mentors is AAOS Council on Advocacy (COA) Chair Wilford K. Gibson, MD. Dr. Gibson recently met ACP Founder and Chairman Sidney Goodfriend at an ACP Mentor Reception to celebrate the launch of ACP’s Active Duty Spouse Mentoring Program and the continuation of veteran mentoring partnerships like those with AAOS. He shared with Mr. Goodfriend his personal connection to the program as a Navy veteran and emphasized the value it can bring to the more than 1 million veterans entering civilian life over the next five years.

“When I came back from deployment, I was fortunate to have the support of my family and friends,” said Dr. Gibson, “but some veterans return to broken homes or outgrown friendships. They need the professional support a mentor can provide to help get them back on their feet. That is why this program makes such a difference.”

Dr. Gibson also noted the similar service-oriented mindset between veterans and physicians. Having both been drawn to their professions from a desire and responsibility to serve others, he said, AAOS mentors and veteran mentees have more in common than they think. This bond can help strengthen mentorship and increase its success.

“Not all military skill sets translate into civilian employment, but service orientation and mission focus are great starters,” said Dr. Gibson. “Leadership, teamwork, and organization also translate from the military environment. In fact, many veteran spouses have developed a similar skill set while overseas, and this worldly exposure can be an asset to many employers.”

Another AAOS mentor, retired Army Col. John J. McGraw, MD, described the mentorship like a bridge: “Becoming a mentor with ACP is an opportunity to help build the bridge between military service and a civilian career for these deserving veterans who have endured so much for our freedom. Without that bridge, they may drown in the river of transition.”

AAOS Council on Advocacy Chair Wilford K. Gibson, MD, recently attended an American Corporate Partners’ Mentor Reception to celebrate the continuation of veteran mentoring partnerships like those with AAOS

Dr. McGraw serves as the project’s cochair with James “Jim” D. Ficke, MD, who is also a retired Army colonel. Dr. McGraw hopes more AAOS members will be inspired by these stories to participate in the program. “We’re always being asked to give money to various good causes, but this is an ask to give your time—which for us, as orthopaedic surgeons, is often more valuable in the long term than what we can do with our wallets,” he said.

Drs. Gibson and McGraw emphasize not only the direct impact the AAOS-ACP partnership has on participants, but also the positive influence it has on congressional advocacy. As a COA-sponsored program, it often comes up in Office of Government Relations (OGR) conversations and is of great interest to members of Congress looking at AAOS’ portfolio of issues.

“When you walk into a congressional member’s office, especially one who is a veteran, you can share real, relatable stories from the veterans we mentor,” said Dr. McGraw. “Suddenly it becomes a commonality through which we can develop relationships and further our advocacy initiatives.”

For example, Dr. McGraw is close with Rep. Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The two Tennessee natives are both passionate about veteran and healthcare issues and have worked together on several congressional initiatives. Most notably, Rep. Roe introduced the Protecting Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act and helped successfully repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Relationships like that of Dr. McGraw and Rep. Roe will be especially important in the 116th Congress, which has many freshman and new veteran members. Through programs like ACP, AAOS members can build their professional network and use it as a platform for orthopaedic advocacy. After all, this election proved that a veteran mentee could be the next member of Congress.

For more information on the AAOS-ACP veteran mentorship program, email dc@aaos.org.

Kristen Coultas is the communications manager in the AAOS OGR.

Fred Essis is the political affairs assistant in the AAOS OGR.