Working Against the Odds

Oracle helps injured vets traverse a new battlefield: finding employment.

by Kate Pavao, November 2009

Joshua Lawton-Belous enlisted in the army on October 11, 2001, and was deployed to Iraq not long after high school. After two tours as a medic, he was sent home with a traumatic brain injury that caused constant headaches and balance problems so severe that he had to learn to walk again.

“Imagine your brain as a mine. One of the tunnels collapses on you. The miners still have to get to the gold, but they have to dig around the mine tunnel,” Lawton-Belous explains. “The way the neurons used to fire has collapsed, and now they’re sort of digging through my brain to reconnect. That’s where a lot of the headaches come from.”

But Lawton-Belous found that his injuries were only one of the challenges he faced after his return home. Indeed, re-entering and navigating civilian life inspired him to start an advocacy group to help Virginia veterans further their education. But he soon discovered another effort helping veterans with this process: Oracle’s Injured Veteran Job and Training Program.

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study conducted in 2007 found 18 percent of recently returned veterans unemployed, more than three times the national rate at the time of the survey. The study also found that one in four veterans earned less than US$21,840 a year.

These challenges are even more acute for injured veterans. Oracle’s Injured Veteran Job and Training Program is specifically designed to help women and men wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars work in entry- to midlevel positions at any Oracle facility.

Participants can select on-the-job training in departments as diverse as IT, consulting, finance, human resources, and sales. Participants may also choose developmental training in database administration and managing Oracle Financials implementations.

So far, 10 injured veterans have been hired for internships through the program—including Lawton-Belous, who works in Oracle’s Reston, Virginia, office as a business analyst. Other participants work full-time at Oracle, two have been placed in government jobs, and one is working for a small business.

Oracle’s Injured Veteran Job and Training Program is small, says Oracle’s Diversity Director Jane Robertson, but that’s by design. “This program is not designed to serve a large number of participants,” she says. “This population has had intense experiences, and we need to make sure we give them both the tools and support they need to succeed. Our hope is that the folks who do participate will be significantly helped.”

To that end, each intern is matched with a mentor who is committed to customizing the job role and work accommodations to ensure success. “There are times when my head is completely killing me, and I can’t even get out of bed,” says Lawton-Belous. At Oracle, he has flexible hours, and people who understand his need for regular doctor visits. He also points out that a support network has formed among the veterans participating in the program.

Interns still have to complete rigorous program requirements—Lawton-Belous had to complete and pass more than 70 training modules. But he knows that his time at Oracle has given him a new vocabulary and an opportunity to see the inner workings of a multinational company up close.

Right now, Lawton-Belous is finishing up his bachelor’s degree at George Mason University and trying to earn as many certifications as he can, including Six Sigma and Project Management Professional certifications. As far as the future goes, Lawton-Belous says, “It just depends on what opens up either at Oracle or wherever else opportunity presents itself.”

Expanding opportunities is exactly what the program is about, says Robertson. “My definition for success for the program is that participants either go on to find a place within Oracle, or have the opportunity to increase their skills so that they thrive in their future endeavors wherever they choose to go.”


Kate Pavao is a freelance writer and contributor to Profit Online.


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