Wounded Warriors Find Safe Job Haven

Posted March 9, 2009 at 6:43pm

When a roadside bomb injured Army Sgt. Zachary Guill in Iraq in December 2006, one of his biggest concerns was how he would provide for his young daughter.

The explosion injured both his back and his right leg, and he was told he wouldn’t be able to run again, thereby dashing his dreams of becoming a U.S. marshal. Upon his return to Washington state, the only job Guill, who uses a cane to get around, was able to find was in a casino for $10 an hour.

“I had my rough times,— the soft-spoken Guill, 28, said of his return to the states.

That all changed when he was referred to the House of Representatives’ Wounded Warrior Program. The program, which announced its first nine fellows at a press conference Monday, was launched last year to give jobs to badly injured veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Patricia Orsini heads up the $5 million program, which falls under the umbrella of Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard. It plans to employ up to 25 veterans to work in Member, leadership and committee offices as well as support services.

In order to be considered for the program, a soldier must have a service-related disability of 30 percent or greater as determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs or a military Physical Evaluation Board. In many cases, these permanent injuries prevent military personnel from pursuing careers in security or police work — jobs many had planned to take after their military tenure ended.

Knowing that law enforcement was no longer an option, Guill interviewed with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) in September 2008 and was working on veterans affairs in the Congressman’s Mercer Island district office by December.

“I love helping people,— Guill said. “I love that I can communicate with them, and they can relate to me because I’ve already been there, done that.—

He says he finds his days in Reichert’s office extremely fulfilling. Not only is he able to help other state residents, but the job also gives Guill time to see his daughter.

“They’re great at working with my schedule so I can see her, which is very rare,— he said. “I’ve never been anywhere like that before.—

Guill spends a lot of time meeting with military generals, helping family members track down a loved one’s medical records and guiding soldiers through the bureaucratic process. He says he often shares his experiences with constituents.

“They call, and they don’t realize my background,— he said. “We’re just on the phone, and if it comes up I’ll bring my background up and they’re really surprised and I think they feel more comfortable.—

Reichert, who was asked to participate in the program by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said he receives very positive feedback from 8th district residents who have dealt with Guill.

“They know Zack understands and Zack can not only relate to their emotional, mental sort of state, but he can also understand the frustration of going through the bureaucratic red tape they need to go through to get care, get out of the war zone and get back home and be reunited with their family,— Reichert said.

As a former police officer who once had his throat slit while investigating a domestic violence call, the Congressman feels a kinship with Guill. He said there is an instant connection between soldiers and police officers who have been injured in the line of duty.

“They know you understand the mental and emotional frustration, pains, struggles that the person they’re talking to has gone through because they’ve been through it,— Reichert said. “And they can tell you, Know what? You’re going to be angry, you’re going to go through that period, you’re going to go through all these different levels of emotion. I know because I’ve been there. And guess what? You’re going to be OK.’—

Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) ordered the establishment of the Wounded Warrior Program in a November 2007 letter. Pelosi and Hoyer were on hand at Monday’s press conference.

Hoyer said the program is a means to open the doors of Congress to veterans. He also said working with the wounded warriors will “enhance our perspective on veteran care.—

Pelosi added that she hopes the program will ripple out into the private sector.

“On the battlefield the military leaves no soldier behind, and we say that when they come home we will leave no veteran behind,— Pelosi said.