DES PLAINES, Ill. — Getting a new lease on life – that’s the mission of a back-to-work boot camp for veterans in Des Plaines. 

Vania Veit emigrated to the US from Mexico in the early 2000s. After serving in Iraq, she left the Marines and got a bachelor’s in science and biology. But she says missing the military led her to join the Air Force and become a military medic. Still serving in the reserves, Veit married and had four daughters. 

After deciding she wanted something new, she heard about the veterans’ boot camp and went all in. Now, she says she is ready for the next challenge. 

“We do have lots of skills that any recruiter can appreciate,” Veit said. “But sometimes it’s hard to put that into a resume, translating those skills.” 

That’s where Andrea Biwer and Marne Deithorn come in – running their boot camp, which graduated its first class seven years ago. 

“We were hearing from the companies about how they were having a hard time finding qualified workers for their open positions,” Biwer said. “So I wrote a whole program grant proposal. (I) had many friends who were in the military that were successful veterans and the next thing I know, we presented this proposal to Rivers Casino.” 

Marne is the vice president of human resources at Rivers and says she immediately saw the dividends the program would pay to job seekers and employers. 

“What we saw was an opportunity to support community, support military service members, support veterans and help them get back into the workforce and what we wanted to do is give back to them because they have given so much in their careers within the military,” she said.

The boot camp hosts 20 participants for the 10-week program. Among the topics learned are resume writing, interviewing skills, social media marketing, networking with potential employers and more. 

“Helping them interview, helping them go to various chamber events throughout the 10 weeks and we also do a community service project because we know they are used to serving the community and we also included that in the program,” Biwer said. “So, not only are we helping them, they’re helping us.”

The program was paramount for vets like Erijon Morava, who spent eight years with the Marines and later joined the National Guard.

“I have been blessed. This program has been amazing so far,” Morava said. “I’ve had opportunities to meet amazing people.” 

The Veteran Boot Camp is free to participants. This year, veteran’s spouses are eligible to enroll, too.  

About 135 boot campers have graduated over the last seven years.