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Paying It Forward- A Veteran’s Journey to HIMSS16

March 9, 2016 by Amy Justice, Program Manager, Veterans Career Services, Professional Development

Amy Justice, Program Manager, Veterans Career Services, Kevin Phillips, and Chris Bullerdick, President, Midwest Gateway Chapter


There is an amazing energy that comes from being surrounded by 41,000 + of your health information technology peers.

This year at HIMSS16 I had a great week ensuring all of my HIMSS Veterans Career Services (VCS) guests had a valuable experience during annual conference. Most of my VCS guests are educated and ready for their transition into the civilian world of health IT; however, occasionally, I come across a veteran who needs a little more special attention and assistance.

Kevin Phillips is a U.S. Navy veteran who has experience and training in IT. He served five years on the USS Midway (CV41) as a cook. When he separated, he went through a series of struggles, both personal and professional, and eventually, became a homeless veteran statistic.

For years, Kevin lived in and out of shelters and worked odd jobs while still trying to get his IT education. He heard about the HIMSS VCS program in 2015 through information I provided to Career One-Stop. In July 2015, he applied for consideration of a HIMSS Chapter Sponsored VCS Travel Honorarium to attend HIMSS16 and was the first select by the HIMSS Midwest Gateway Chapter in St. Louis, Mo.

When I called him, he was in tears. With help from Volunteers of America and other services for veterans, Kevin moved from a shelter into his own apartment and received assistance so that he had enough appropriate attire to attend our VCS Boot Camp and HIMSS16.

Kevin flew out of Fort Wayne, Ind. on Sunday, Feb. 28, but was delayed in Chicago due to a cancelled flight. The following morning, and with only $11 in his pocket (enough for the shuttle from the Las Vegas airport to the hotel), he was stopped; as he did not have $25 for the checked-bag fee, one not required when he started his excursion in Fort Wayne. Kevin knew no one to call in Chicago and called me at 4 a.m. PST.

The airline did not allow over-the-phone payments of baggage fees; there was nothing I could do. He tried to get assistance from anyone in the airport and the United Service Organizations (USO) but was unsuccessful. Feeling like a failure, and with no other option, he grabbed his bag and started walking from Chicago back to Fort Wayne, Ind.

It was then that the Chicago Police Department intervened and stopped him as he was walking home. They returned to the airport, and to my surprise, contacted me as I was running our VCS Boot Camp. After speaking with a police officer on the phone and with the airline, the officers paid for the $25 baggage fee and got Kevin on his way to HIMSS16.

I told the officer that they changed a life today; his response was “anything for a vet.” Kevin arrived later that day and showed up at the Hero’s Welcome to Health IT booth on Tuesday grateful tears that he had finally made it.

Kevin is in heaven. He has met some amazing people who are providing resources, career coaching and advice to ensure he is never homeless again. His biggest hope is to get a job and be successful enough that he can pay it forward in the future.

Learn more about the HIMSS Veterans Career Services initiative .

Posted Under: Veterans Career Services