Veterans bring special skill set to health care profession

By: Tim Gerszewski .

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The skills and perspectives veterans and military personnel bring to private industry isn’t lost on organizations like Sanford Health. The company’s launch of a program to serve military members has made this year’s Veterans Day especially celebratory.

The health system aims to become the employer, provider and partner of choice for service men and women, so it recently created the Sanford Health Department of Veterans and Military Services.

Led by retired Navy Capt. Paul Weckman, the department is actively working on projects to enhance the veteran experience at its facilities—for both employees and patients.

Employees who have served now have the option to display their veteran status on their identification badge. Job-seeking veterans can also visit Sanford Health’s veterans job site, which matches military jobs with open positions.

The Sanford Veteran Information Hotline is also available by calling (800) 949-1848, providing veterans with a single point of contact for questions.

In honor of Veterans Day, Sanford Health proudly shares profiles of four employees who have served.

Cindy Kaasa

Cindy Kaasa knows nursing and Morse code.

Before the Elba, New York, native moved to Minnesota in the 1980s, she was a radio teletype operator in the Army who was responsible for communicating in the field through Morse code, the method of transmitting information through clicks, tones or lights.

After being honorably discharged as a specialist fourth class, Kaasa relocated to Minnesota where she later started a family with her husband, Pete, whom she met during her service. Her time in the Army included stops in Fort Gordon, Georgia, and Fort Hood, Texas.

Kaasa was one of the original employees of the dialysis unit at Sanford Red Lake when it opened in 2005. She started there as an LPN, ascending to clinical manager of the unit while obtaining her RN and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing.

The mother of two sons and grandmother of two credits her time in the military with cultivating a cultural mindfulness that has served her well in her interactions with patients.

“The Army taught me that there so many cultures; I am very interested in how other people live,” Kaasa said. “I learned how to intermingle with people of other cultures and how to care about people.”

Jon Goehring

Jon Goehring has made a career out of recruiting. He did it for more than 15 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard before joining Sanford Health’s talent acquisition team as a talent adviser a year ago.

A native of Mobridge, South Dakota, Goehring enlisted in the Air Force out of high school, training as an information management specialist and spending time in Texas and Mississippi before a two-year stop in the Philippines. He also deployed to Desert Shield/Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991.
Goehring spent 20 years in the Air Force and five in the Air National Guard as an Active Guard Reserve, using a handful of those years to recruit others into service of their country.
Now, as a talent advisor, Goehring is responsible for drawing candidates to Sanford Health in its research, Imagenetics, BioBank and Edith Sanford Breast Center areas. In fact, he’s become the resident military resume translator for talent acquisition, helping his colleagues understand how certain service assignments and military values align with open positions at Sanford Health.
“In the Air Force, we lived by Core Values – Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in all We Do,” Goehring said. “Those three core values help Air Force veterans immensely as they transition into a civilian occupation and are an exceptional fit for Sanford Health.”
Goehring and his wife have three daughters and two grandchildren.

Todd Schaffer, M.D.

Todd Schaffer, M.D., joined the Army National Guard in 1992. He began as a heavy equipment operator and rose in the ranks to an officer in 1999. He is currently a colonel and the commander of the State Medical Detachment based in Bismarck, North Dakota. In this role, Schaffer ensures the medical readiness of the fighting force so they can be deployed rapidly to any emergency.

During Schaffer’s 25 years in the Army National Guard, he has been deployed four times. He was deployed to combat zones for four months at a time. He also performed a mission in Bolivia in 1997, building a medical clinic and performing an outreach mission in rural Ghana where they cared for more than 2,000 patients in 2011.

Schaffer’s experience in the Army National Guard has affected the work he does as a physician at Sanford Health.

“I have provided care in some of the most remote and austere environments in the world with either no, or very rudimentary, external support such as lab or X-ray,” said Schaffer. “This has given me appreciation for the advantages I have by practicing in a facility such as Sanford. In addition, my experience leading troops at multiple levels has allowed me to help lead teams here in Bismarck to provide the best care for our patients.”

Todd Simonson

As a high school senior, Todd Simonson wasn’t asking his parents for a car. Instead, the Ada, Minnesota, not-yet 18-year-old needed their signatures on his Navy enlistment papers. He reported for active duty Nov. 13, 1981, his 19th birthday.

Simonson did more than four years of active duty in the Navy, working as a surgical technologist and combat medic in California, Washington state and Okinawa, Japan. Following his active duty, he moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and affiliated with the Navy Reserve in Fargo, where he served one weekend a month of Reserve duty and preformed a minimum of two weeks active duty every year for the past 30 years.

While in Grand Forks, Simonson received his bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of North Dakota.

As the clinical care supervisor at the Sanford South University campus in Fargo, Simonson provides the orthopedic surgical services department with nursing leadership and a technical knowledge that spans more than 30 years.

Simonson’s done operating room nursing work his entire career and is thankful for the Navy’s high standards in areas like advanced training and certifications and its personal development opportunities.

“When civilian employers are looking at (military) nurses, they get a huge bang for their buck because of all the training the military requires,” Simonson said. “The military builds you up to higher levels of responsibility and authority.”

Simonson and his wife, Peggy, have one son and two daughters.