Army Staff Sgts. Abel Herrera and Jonathan Goodier both planned to be career soldiers – to serve at least 20 years in the Army, and then retire. Unfortunately, each had his career recently cut short by an injury. Goodier, a cavalry scout, and Herrera, an infantryman, were told they would not be able to continue with their active-duty service. Each was facing a medical discharge.
For Goodier, it was a shock. “My mindset at the time,” he says, “was, ‘Hey, I’m going back into the Army.’ And they told me, ‘No, you’re not. You’re going home.’”
Disappointed, each quickly surveyed his options. “My unit kind of gave me a choice – either go to school or get a job,” says Herrera. “I didn’t want to go to school, and I didn’t want to work on post [at Fort Hood Military Reservation near Killeen, Texas]. I wanted to expand my horizons.”
Herrera knew it wasn’t the best time, economically, to be looking for work. “I have seen many great people in the military get out for many different reasons, and I can say that I only know of a few who actually had some kind of job lined up for them,” he says. “And when you get hurt 10 or 12 years into your career, and the Army decides you’re no longer an asset, that kind of throws a monkey wrench into your plan. … For the most part, if people don’t have jobs already lined up, working with their families or just knowing the right people at the right time, it’s kind of hard getting a job, especially now.”
Through different channels, however, Herrera and Goodier learned of a pilot program being launched by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at its offices in Austin, Texas, the Warrior Intern Program, which offers work internships designed to develop the career skills of injured military veterans, while addressing veteran-specific issues in the workplace.
Given the way he has seen other veterans struggle, Herrera says, he jumped at the chance to work and learn new skills. “To have something like this thrown at you, where you have to change your whole career plan, it’s kind of scary,” he says. “I saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime.
“My case manager at the time was the one that turned me on to it,” says Goodier, “to try it out and see if I can get some more job skills. … I decided to try out the internship and see where I could go with it.”
The IRS Austin Pilot Program
The pilot program was established in November 2009 with 10 interns: Herrera, Goodier, and eight others. Chip Hollimon, manager of the IRS’ veteran recruitment program, describes the pilot as a four- to six-month internship, sponsored by the Army, to help veterans transition into the civilian workplace while providing the IRS with experienced and skilled individuals. While the hope is that some interns will eventually choose a career with the IRS, it isn’t necessarily the goal.
Participants in the program are selected from the Army’s Warrior Transition Units, which are tasked with helping service members re-enter civilian life after medical discharges. Because the interns are still on active duty, the internships are non-paid positions. The interns practice skill-sets that range from clerical to administrative, with the potential to transfer to other business units within the IRS. Right now, most of the program work is focused on the Austin call center. Herrera and Goodier are working in the examination department, performing a variety of tasks, from sorting mail to assigned cases. “They’ve pretty much got us involved in just about everything,” Herrera says.
“The program is flexible enough to allow for customization for each intern,” Hollimon says. “This is necessary, as many of the interns are still recovering from injuries and have pending medical appointments. In order to provide maximum benefit and training opportunities, it just makes sense to not have a rigid structure.”
The Austin Pilot has partnered with the Military Outreach for Service-Internal Revenue Service (MOS-IRS), an employee organization that supports military veterans. The MOS-IRS has matched intern participants with IRS mentors who help the interns develop both a big-picture view of the IRS’ work and ideas about how to grow an IRS career.