On a hot June day in 2011, Sergeant Braden Matejek was driving a tactical vehicle along Afghanistan’s Route 1 when the truck ran over a pressure-plate IED. The injuries he sustained in the incident led to two Purple Heart recognitions and a medical discharge. So it was that, three months later, Matejek was back home. However, his responsibilities with the military did not end there. In 2012, he joined the Defense Personnel Accounting Agency where he helped retrieve the remains of fallen soldiers who, once DNA-identified, were sent home to receive a proper burial with full rights. Matejek carried out this honorable duty until he was medically retired in 2016. Then, in the proverbial blink of an eye, he was back in the civilian world, about to become a father, and seeking employment as a veteran with a disability. As if these life changes weren’t jarring enough, Matejek was still recovering from a combat-related traumatic brain injury. He had also been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Among Veterans with Disabilities, PTSD is Common
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service area. Of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many as 20 out of every 100 arrive home with symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance. Often, veterans with combat-related PTSD are hesitant to speak about the experiences that affected them so deeply. But because Matejek wanted to raise awareness about the issue, he agreed to share his story in the National Geographic documentary series, My Fighting Season. He and his company are featured in Season 1, Episode 1: “Hunting Ghosts,” in which body-cam footage captures the moment Braden’s vehicle is struck by the IED.
For those who have never walked in a soldier’s shoes, it’s hard to imagine what it must be like—“hunting ghosts” one day and, the next, searching for a job. Thankfully, after a Google search for “jobs for veterans with disabilities,” Matejek found PRIDE Industries.
PRIDE Industries Connects the Dots Between Employment and Veterans with Disabilities
“Pretty quickly after contacting PRIDE Industries, I was connected with the incredible Job Developer/AbilityOne® Recruiter Sean Sullivan,” says Matejek. “He mentored me and saw that my skill set included leadership experience.”
With Sullivan’s guidance, Matejek prepared a résumé and scored a job interview. Then, just three days before the birth of his first child, Matejek was hired as a Production Control Clerk at PRIDE Industries’ Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH). In this role, Matejek acts as a liaison between the Marine Corps and the PRIDE Industries facilities team, ensuring that the barracks are in top condition, and creating a “home-like” atmosphere for our country’s troops and their families.
“Landing this job was truly a blessing,” says Matejek. “I’ve been at MCBH for five years, and I still look forward every day to interacting with the young people in uniform. I also enjoy the chance to share my military expertise while managing the barracks.”
Matejek also credits Luis Gutierrez, Regional Government Contract Manager at MCBH, for helping him succeed in his career.
“Luis is a retired Army Sergeant Major,” says Matejek. “He’s always been more than willing to mentor me and to listen—even in his off-time.”
When asked about PTSD recovery, Matejek is quick to point out that it’s “not necessarily something you get over.” Rather, he’s come to understand how his experience can be positively leveraged in the workplace—especially in an environment that calls for order and structure.
“Being in a military environment has actually helped me to maintain a constant level of professionalism,” he says. “There’s a lot of structure. Things are very coordinated. And in the military and in combat, failure is not an option.”
When it comes to employment for veterans with disabilities, Matejek has some words of advice for job-seeking veterans.
“Remember your military training and become comfortable knowing that you hold the correct skillset to carry you forward,” he says. “What I learned in the military—self-reliance and perseverance—got me to where I am today.”
Braden Matejek has, indeed, carried forward. He has worked for PRIDE for five years and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
“PRIDE Industries has given me ample opportunity to be successful and creative,” Matejek says. “My bosses have always been helpful and understanding. And Zig? He was an awesome individual—a true inspiration to stay positive.”