Steven Fyfe: Helping vets whose 'shoes I used to be in'

Monday - 7/25/2011, 6:00am EDT

(Photo courtesy of VA)
By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

This profile is part of the Federal News Radio special report, "The New Face of Government." Federal News Radio profiled a total of six young feds for this series.

Name: Steven Fyfe
Age: 28 years old
Job: Transition Patient Advocate
Agency: Veterans Affairs
Time in Job: 2 years

Government is known for its bureaucracy. Steven Fyfe's job is to navigate the red tape for veterans.

Since 2009, Fyfe has been a transition patient advocate at the D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center. His job is to help seriously ill or injured vets when they return from active duty. Everyday is different, he said. He could be explaining health benefits or looking up job training opportunities or calling about apartment openings.

Sometimes the patients are frustrated with the slowness of a process, or they don't understand why they must answer so many questions.

"Because I've been through the process, I can explain why they're doing it, and it really eases their attitudes about why they're here," Fyfe said. "They come to accept it and start getting the help that they need."

Being a veteran himself is "huge" on the job, Fyfe added.

"A lot of times you hear veterans say, 'They don't know what I'm talking about,'" he said. "I don't have that problem."

Fyfe joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) as a student at the University of Maryland. He was deployed for the first time in 2005 while still in school and is currently finishing his bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice.

After his second deployment to Iraq, Fyfe, 28, led a focus group at the D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center explaining his experience as a patient. At the meeting, Fyfe heard about an opening at the center as a transition patient advocate and ended up getting the job.

As one of the younger employees at his office, Fyfe said he learns from his older coworkers. He said he's not treated differently as a young person; in fact, being a young fed has helped on the job.

"I'm able to provide [older coworkers] a lot more insight because they don't necessarily know what's going through younger vets' heads," Fyfe said.

Although Fyfe "walked into" his job, he said other young people interested in joining the government should try to get an internship first.

"To get a federal job, you spend a lot of time trying to get it, to get in the door, so you want to make sure the job you're going to go for and you're applying for is actually the job you want," he said.

Fyfe said he didn't realize his job would be so varied and so personal. The one-on-one time has led to deep relationships with his patients. After his undergraduate education, Fyfe said he wants to pursue a Master's in Social Work and continue his work with VA.

"It's one of those organizations you just believe in, that you're doing something good," he said. "I'm helping people out whose shoes I used to be in."

Check out more from the Federal News Radio special report, "The New Face of Government."

Part 1 - Introduction: New Face of Government

Part 2 - Survey reveals both opportunities, rift between generations

Part 3 - Practical tips for engaging young feds

Part 4 - Young feds share what they really think (Read the profiles of six young feds)