The Jan-Feb 2008 issue of the Construction Zone, the Construction Institute’s bi-monthly newsletter, featured Tom Rancich and VRHabilis in this article by Stephan Butler, A.M.ASCE.
Lt. Commander Thomas Rancich, US Navy (Ret.) and founder of VRHabilis, has recently joined CI’s Social and Environmental Concerns in Construction Committee. The Committee’s members, who focus on social, economic, technological and environmental concerns in construction, believe that VRHabilis’s business model, which is informed by both social justice and profit concerns, embodies the core vision and mission of the committee and its work.
VRHabilis, which stands for Veteran Run Work (Latin derivative), is a disabled veteran-owned small business with the large vision of increasing career opportunities for disabled veterans in construction and related fields. Tom Rancich, a retired Navy SEAL, combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan (awarded the Bronze Star for valor), explains, “VRHabilis (pronounced vrahhbliss) began as a military range remediation service company. We saw where we could seize a niche market by providing military range managers with tailored solutions to their individual needs instead of following the status quo in the unexploded ordnance industry. One of the first things we wanted to develop was an enhanced remote-controlled capability for land clearance and target placement. We developed the concept, which, we joked, if we got right, we would never have to leave the pickup. Right then the light went on: if we could do it from the pickup, then so could any disabled veteran.”
From that initial conversation VRHabilis has developed the concept of using adaptive technology to bridge the gap between industrial and medical technology. “We refer to it as ‘mass customization to maximize human potential,’™” explains Rancich. “The idea is to work with equipment manufacturers and construction managers to develop cost-effective solutions to individual disabilities and then field those solutions to add service-disabled veterans to the work force.”
The facts are clear. Tens of thousands of disabled veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars face huge challenges reintegrating into the work force. These are not men and women who want, or even would, take hand outs, but the handicap posed to them by their service-related injuries is real.
“I fractured my neck in a helicopter crash in 1996,” says Rancich. “I was able to continue to serve but as I went through the retirement process in 2005 it was obvious that the system was skewed toward telling [me] what I could not do rather than help[ing] me find a way to do what I wanted to. We want to reverse that skew. In the interest of full disclosure, we believe that there [will be] enormous socio, economic and financial benefits in doing so; this is not a nonprofit effort. By focusing on what we know to be true about these men and women—they are honorable, they are trained, they are adaptable, they are diligent, etc.—we can build a corporate structure that supports their needs as a function of productivity instead of overhead.” Success in that endeavor could add tens of thousands of motivated workers to the industry at great benefit to society and the economy, not to mention honoring a sliver of the debt of gratitude owed to these individuals.
You can download a PDF of the newsletter from the Construction Zone.