By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – After serving as a combat medic in Afghanistan and then working with soldiers and veterans in various capacities statewide, Justin Sousa is now drawing upon his past experiences to help fellow veterans and their families. An Army National Guard veteran, he began July 17 as the new director of the Central Massachusetts Veterans’ Services District (CMVSD), which consists of Grafton, Northborough, Shrewsbury and Westborough.
He’s dividing his time and energy among the four communities with the digitized approach of Crown Records Management along with one-on-one assistance from town officials and veterans.
“At first it seemed a little daunting,” he acknowledged. “But now I’ve got an organized schedule in place by developing a Crown management system that allows me to travel seamlessly throughout the communities. I can also walk into town managers’ offices and they help me figure out answers to my questions. They and the veterans have been hugely supportive.”
In August 2007, Sousa joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard and was stationed at Camp Curtis Guild in Reading. He underwent 10 weeks of basic training at Fort Sill Oklahoma, north of Lawton. Next, he went for 16 weeks of advanced individual training for combat medic at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
Upon returning to Reading, Sousa served as a 68W (68 Whiskey) health care specialist assigned to the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Headquarters Company. Among his job duties were administering emergency medical treatment and training combat lifesavers. He was deployed to Afghanistan for a year beginning in February 2011.
Sousa demobilized in 2012 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, southeast of Trenton, N.J. While there, he attended the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy. Then he returned to the Reading base.
“I worked as an assistant health care manager for the brigade, and also as one of the health care NCOs for the Homeland Response Force,” he explained. “I wore a few different hats throughout that time. It was interesting to see how they all intertwined together.”
During that time, Sousa organized and supervised annual health assessment events while monitoring medical issues for personnel statewide. In February 2013, he was promoted to sergeant. He served in the National Guard up to August 2014. Sousa appreciates the comradery he developed with fellow soldiers throughout his seven years of service.
“It really built a lot of strong relationships for me and other soldiers,” he shared. “I have lasting friendships that came out of the deployment; my best man was one of the guys that I deployed with. I’ve also kept alive several working relationships that I got from the guard all across the state.”
As a civilian, Sousa immediately started working as a case coordinator with Skyline Unlimited Inc. at Hanscom Air Force Base.
“Skyline is contracted to manage the medical records for the Massachusetts National Guard and also to provide civilian nonclinical case managers who work in conjunction with the health care NCOs,” he explained.
There, Sousa assisted a registered nurse. He performed case management of over 100 medical cases, tracked soldiers’ medical readiness in preparation for overseas deployment, and conducted periodic health assessments for over 3,000 Massachusetts National Guard soldiers.
Beginning in December 2015, Sousa worked as a case manager for the Veterans’ Northeast Outreach Center Inc., Metrowest Division, located in the Walker Building in Marlborough. After obtaining information about the strengths and needs of veterans and their families, he assisted them with benefits, employment and housing. He also provided referrals to debt counseling, legal assistance, medical services and treatment programs.
Sousa has found that his past work experience and contacts are helping him as CMVSD director.
“Knowing the different programs in the state has been the key,” he said. “I know who to either refer someone to, or who to call to get more information for a veteran. My intent as director of CMVSD is to educate veterans on the benefits that are available to them, and then help them access those benefits. Veterans’ service agents are always uncovering new benefits that might become available.”