Circuit: Helping heal the war-wounded and their families

Military Spouse Corporate Career Network

Families are tested in new ways when warfighters return from Iraq with serious wounds. Families must try to rebalance work and life while being caregivers. We talked to the founder of a program that supports wounded troops and their families in innovative ways.

Deborah Kloeppel, wife of retired Navy Rear Adm. Daniel Kloeppel, started a program that helps brain-injured troops returning from Iraq make the transition from military service to information technology jobs. She trains and matches brain-injured soldiers and their caregiver spouses with hard-to-fill routine technology jobs. 

Kloeppel is president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit group Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN) and the MSCCN Pinnacle Foundation, which provides financial support for the network. Her husband is on the board of directors.

“Military spouse employment was in my head for many years,” Kloeppel said. “Every time my husband was deployed, I minded that I wasn’t able to reach any pinnacle in a career. It was in my head to connect spouses with recruiters.”

MSCCN’s Caregiver Corporate Placement program teaches couples data entry and other basic IT skills and gives them on-the-job experience. Through MSCCN training and work experience, war-wounded service members discover what they are capable of doing, and MSCCN find jobs for them. Caregivers work alongside their spouses. “The caregiver is the ‘secret sauce,’” Kloeppel said.

Sgt. Charles Auster, who has serious brain injuries, and his wife, Erica, recently finished MSCCN training in data entry. Boeing donated the laptop PCs that they use to work at home in Baltimore, between visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  

Charles Auster is doing so well at data entry work that Concentra, an occupational health care company, wants to hire them both, in separate jobs, in the same division when he leaves the Marine Corps. He and Erica, representing MSCCN, recently received a Golden Eagle award from Chuck Corjay at Navy IT Day, sponsored by AFCEA International’s Northern Virginia chapter.

“Injured soldiers all want to go back and be with their squadrons,” Kloeppel said. “We ease them from their commands into a job with MSCCN first, and then we know what they are capable of.”

The war-wounded service members are hard to place, Kloeppel added. “We train and hire them for MSCCN’s applicant-tracking system and data entry, and then we want to move them to a corporate job.”

Since the program started, it has hired two couples. Kloeppel said she hopes, with additional corporate funding, to be able to hire 50 couples. “We’re hoping that a corporation might sponsor a couple,” she said. 

Sometimes service members become frustrated when they think that their war injuries are holding them back, Kloeppel said. “We become advocates and will explain the injury and its effects to employers.”

Kloeppel works on the project from Texas and publicizes it by word of mouth via family centers at Fort Hood and Randolph Air Force Base. “We want the most desperate cases,” she said. “People come to us when they have someone who is most needy.” 

A company can train or pay the network to train brain-injured men and women. To be successful in the program, both the caregiver and wounded spouse must be computer-literate and able to work in a virtual-office environment.

Kloeppel has experience hiring military spouses. She used to work for Concentra, which hired her to lead a division that hired military spouses. Now Concentra is one of two companies that provide financial support for the caregiver project. The other is Boeing.

Rick Carey, vice president of government services at Concentra, said that by providing IT jobs that can be performed at home, the caregiver program “is a great opportunity to help the family.”

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week.

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