Sean Toolan is a member of Local 365 in Hewlett, New York, where he works for Liberty Utilities’ water division. He’s also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He wore both hats when he spoke at the Region I conference in September and delivered a powerful testimony to the work that he and other members of the UWUA’s Veterans Committee do to save lives.
Toolan relayed the sad fact that an average of 22 U.S. military veterans a day commit suicide. One day last summer, thanks to his quick thinking and fast action, he saved a life. When a fellow vet and UWUA member was showing signs of distress, Toolan immediately dove into action and within 24-hours successfully intervened to get the support they needed. “Through my work with the Veterans’ Committee, I was familiar with the resources that could help and knew that Rick Passarelli would drop whatever he was doing to take my call and help me strategize.”
Toolan says the committee’s work is so important but isn’t as well-known as it should be. “This was but one incident of thousands that happen every year. Too many end in tragedy.” Aside from the hands-on career training and job placement conducted through the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP), the Veterans Committee offers a clearinghouse of resources to help anyone who isn’t sure where to go to seek help.
He explained that many veterans struggle to make the transition to civilian life. The entire time servicemembers are in the military, someone is making basic life decisions for them: where to be, when to be there, what to wear, who to report to, when to eat. It becomes second nature to wait for commands. “The military doesn’t focus on teaching life skills; they focus on getting the job done, and they tell you exactly how to do it,” Toolan shared.
“Then your time is up and there’s no one giving you orders. You’re on your own,” he said. For some, making basic decisions isn’t second nature and can be destabilizing. “If you can make the shock of that transition from military to civilian life any easier — where do I go, who do I speak to — that can save a life,” he said.
Toolan draws strong parallels between the core values instilled in the military — service, dedication to the job at hand, punctuality, brotherhood, work ethic — and those of the UWUA. In both, the most important thing you do is get the job done correctly and safely. He said, “Both are like a family, and the most important thing you can do is protect your brothers and sisters.”