Amidst the pomp and circumstance of a full color guard, Northwell Health’s leadership gathered on Monday, May 23, with veterans and elected officials to honor members of the military, recognize their sacrifice and hear from a former Navy Seal about the challenges veterans face when returning home.
Kevin Lacz, former Navy SEAL and friend of Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame, served as the event’s keynote speaker. Lacz spoke about joining the SEALS after the terror attacks on 9/11 took the life of his best friend’s father and how he subsequently served two tours in Iraq.
“Their challenges come from adjusting to civilian life and being away from their brothers in arms,” he said. While 20 percent of veterans who return home face the challenges of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), many face other difficult issues.
Northwell Health helps to address the issues facing returning veterans and their families, serving as both a treatment provider for veterans and their families, and as a major employer of veterans that recognizes the value they bring to their jobs.
Juan Serrano, director of Northwell’s Office of Military and Veterans’ Liaison Services who is also a veteran of foreign conflict, spoke of the importance of providing tangible commitments to those who serve.
“Northwell has made a pledge to veterans that we take very seriously. Whether it’s helping them get back to work, learning important job training skills, or finding the right medical or behavioral health help, our message is clear; no veteran should ever be left behind. You are not alone.”
As part of that ongoing pledge, for the sixth consecutive year, Northwell President and CEO Michael Dowling presented three veterans with checks representing the difference between their military pay and the regular salaries they would have received had they not taken military leave from their jobs at Northwell Health. They were: U.S. Army Reservists Omar Bholat, MD, a U.S. Army colonel for 21 years who works as a cardiothoracic surgeon at Long Island Jewish Medical Center; Michelle Wilson, an emergency medicine technician at Northwell’s Center for EMS in Syosset with two years of military service as a construction engineer; and Nelson Martinez, an environmental services worker at Plainview Hospital with eight years of service as an engineer.
The initiative recognizes the financial sacrifice veterans and their families make and helps returning veterans reintegrate to civilian life. Since the program’s inception, 30 Northwell employees who were deployed to military service have received financial rewards totaling more than $1.5 million.
Highlighting Northwell’s expertise as a treatment provider, Sgt. First Class Clint Castro, 38, of East Meadow, spoke about the help he received from Northwell’s Rosen Family Wellness Center in overcoming PTSD.
Castro enlisted at the age of 21 in 1998. In 2006, he signed up once again and served 15 months in Iraq as a medic. Upon returning home, he realized that something was wrong.
“I angered easily, and made decisions that were not well thought out,” he said. “I am here to say that I needed help. I was diagnosed with PTSD and am doing so much better. My outlook is positive. I am a better husband and father. I am so grateful for the help I received; I hope other veterans in need will reach out for help if it is necessary. It’s so gratifying to know that we are not alone.”
Call 516-719-3125 to learn more about Northwell Health’s military and veteran liaison services.