Glen Gechlik ’05 M.B.A. received a Yale Leadership Award from the Yale Alumni Association (YAA) on Nov. 8 for his work connecting area veterans with enrichment activities at Yale, and his support for blind veterans.
Gechlik, a practicing physician who has run multiple military medical units in the U.S. and abroad and currently serves as an internal medicine physician and administrator with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, has led efforts to improve the lives of local veterans in partnership with the Yale alumni and university community.
Gechlik was looking for a way to engage alumni with veterans around Yale Day of Service and says the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Center provided a perfect opportunity. “Visually impaired veterans are taught how to function again, how to live their lives again,” he says of the center’s patients, “and we can visit them and help.” He helped the VA and Yale Veterans Association form a collaboration to launch its Yale Day of Service initiative seven years ago, when 40 volunteers came to participate with 25 of the center’s veterans. The Yale Day of Service at the VA has become an annual event each spring, with volunteers planting vegetables and tending garden plots at the hospital. Four years ago, administrators at Yale launched the Hero’s Day Football game. Gechlik helped the VA, Yale Veterans Association, Yale Athletics and ROTC create an ongoing partnership that brings blind and visually impaired veterans to a football game that includes a special tent, catering, military vehicles, free parking, and recognition.
“We do it in collaboration with the ROTC and Air Force cadets — it brings together different generations of service people,” Gechlik says. This year, Heroes Day was held on Oct. 13 at the Yale Bowl when Yale played Mercer University. “It was raining and there were no other tents outside the stadium,” says Gechlik, “but our tent had 100 people.”
His enthusiasm for helping veterans is palpable. “Glen has been absolutely unwavering in his commitment to cultivate and strengthen connections between Yale, the veteran community, and other stakeholders and affiliates,” says Henry Kwan ’05 M.A., director for Shared Interest Groups at the YAA. “And he has done so with great humility, reserve and compassion. He is the consummate ‘quiet professional’ who believes that his deeds and actions speak so much louder than anything he could say about his engagement as an alumni leader.”
In fact, Gechlik’s career in medicine has been one dedicated to serving the needs of veterans and military members, from the local VA to previous roles on military bases in Kuwait and Pennsylvania. A minor career detour into finance turned out, not surprisingly, to be a mismatch, he says.
Military to management
Gechlik’s military journey began when he joined the Air Force Reserves a month before the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was soon balancing life in the military with a career in medicine, and decided that he wanted the skills to go into management. So he applied — and was accepted — to Yale School of Management. As an active reservist, he traveled to Pennsylvania on the weekends to fulfill his military duties, and also worked at Yale New Haven Hospital’s St. Raphael Campus as a coverage doctor. “There were no other active reservists in the business school” at that time, says Gechlik, although there were about 10 veterans among the 150 students in his class, and they were invited to lunch with the dean each year.
He next became an emergency room doctor at the VA in West Haven, laying the groundwork for his life’s work. “I felt if I was in the emergency room, I wasn’t hurting anybody by deploying,” Gechlik says. By 2006, he was on a mission in Kuwait, running the medical unit for his base. He was then tapped to run the medical unit on the base in Pennsylvania. It was around this time that Gechlik realized “I haven’t used my finance degree.” A stint at an investment bank focused on biotech followed, but while Gechlik says he excelled at the work, he was uncomfortable with the lack of diversity and missed the patients.
He’d always remained part time at the VA, but following his turn in investment banking, Gechlik fully embraced his calling. “The VA culture is very veteran-centric,” Gechlik says, “and all the medical records and doctors are in the VA.” The veterans love the personalized care, he adds, and he loves the team approach. “No one is motivated by financial concerns,” he says. “They want to work for the VA for the right reasons.” Key to their success, he notes, is the VA’s treatment of mental health issues in conjunction with physical ones. “We have the best psychiatric practice,” Gechlik says, services that include a 24-hour, dedicated psychiatric emergency room where at all times veterans are given dignity and respect for psychiatric and substance abuse disorders they may have developed as result of their military service.
Gechlik currently serves on the board of the Yale Veterans Association (YVA) and is chair of the YVA Service & Veterans Assistance Committee.