Nurses Karen Van Houten, left, and Jamie Schnaak work together at UCHealth Memorial Hospital central in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Cary Vogrin/UCHealth)

UCHealth has formed a committee in Colorado Springs aimed at supporting military spouses.

The committee of about 25 people is in the early stages of deciding what the vision of the organization will be, but officials say a major focus will be on professional networking and mentoring military spouses in the workplace.

That sounds great to Jamie Schnaak, a surgical trauma nurse working in the cardiovascular and thoracic unit for UCHealth who said she was “kicked out the door” and replaced in a job in Atlanta when she got engaged to an “Army guy”.

Ten years later, Schnaak, co-chair of the committee, is happy to be at UCHealth, where her manager understands the flexibility needed for military families and their unpredictable lifestyle.

“This committee is important because not only does it acknowledge your military affiliation, but it celebrates your connection to the military,” Schnaak said. “Having spent so much time working with Family Readiness Groups in the Army that are command-driven organizations, our organization and committee are specific to the career-needs of the spouse … in terms of resources, hiring, mentorship, recruitment and retaining those spouses.”

Jackie Dardis, also co-chair of the committee, is a 12-year active-duty Air Force veteran and current military spouse. She works as an arrythmia nurse coordinator and manager of the pacemaker clinic for UCHealth.

She decided to look at nursing jobs in the civilian world about seven years ago and made the decision to not wear her wedding ring because she didn’t want to be recognized as a military spouse. Looking at her resumé, it was clear she was a veteran but Dardis said she didn’t want that to hold her back from getting a job because military families typically move every few years with reassignments.

“I definitely felt I couldn’t out myself as a military spouse because I didn’t want to be not chosen over a non-military spouse,” she said.

Dardis has realized her perception about the view of military spouses in the workplace was wrong.

“When I heard we were starting this committee I was very excited to be part of it because … I wanted to put it out in the community that UCHealth does support the military community and that we see the value in military wives,” Dardis said. “They are very adaptable. We need to tap into them because they can benefit our community and our organization.”

Schnaak and Dardis are advocating on Fort Carson to reach out to military spouses.

First Lady Jill Biden visited Colorado Springs May 6, a day ahead of Military Spouse Appreciation Day, to address dozens of military spouses from all branches of service.

Biden — whose father served as a Navy signalman and her late son, Beau, served in the Delaware National Guard — said she understands what military spouses go through.

“You’ve learned how to push through the hard times, how to adapt and persevere and keep going,” Biden said during her speech. “But these challenges shouldn’t be harder than they need to be, and that’s why Joining Forces, our White House initiative to support military, means so much to me. Your service to this country has earned nothing less. And giving you the support you need to thrive matters to me and to the president.”

Biden acknowledged common struggles many military spouses face, including loneliness, anxiety and obtaining better mental health services and affordable childcare.

Ron Fitch, vice president of operations and military affairs, and chief administrative officer of UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, said he understands the need to better serve military spouses.

“Military spouses have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country as they move around from post to post based on their spouse's timeline and their assignments, said Fitch, who previously worked as Fort Carson’s garrison commander.

“We had a discussion with the chamber,” Fitch said. “Everyone is looking for talent, but no one has any idea how to tap into military spouses who are out there looking for employment. Or all the service member transition programs on ... all the different installations.”

Fitch was charged with expanding military training affiliation programs when he joined UCHealth almost three years ago.

Training agreements with the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson’s Evans Army Community Hospital have been in pace for years.

The goal isn’t really recruiting but embedding people into the level 1 trauma team and getting them experience, Fitch said.

General surgeons, nurses and medics from both the Air Force Academy and Evans Army Community Hospital are gaining experience by working at area UCHealth facilities.

“That’s all to maintain competencies and to get more experience because typically at Evans or the surgery center at the Air Force Academy you’re just not going to see that volume,” Fitch said.

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