John Irwin - Fellow

May 30, 2012
Brenda and John Irwin
John Irwin - Fellow

As the Veterans Field Representative for Congressman Frank Pallone in New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District, John Irwin spends most days conducting outreach and assisting the district’s veteran constituents with benefits issues. But when a vet with whom Irwin had been working closely went off the grid, he went above and beyond to make things right. “He disappeared,” Irwin says, “so I showed up at his home.”

It turned out the former serviceman was battling a drug addiction and PTSD. But with a little support from Irwin and some good treatment, the veteran soon ended up back on his feet. “Give me a guy whose odds are stacked against him and fighting everything,” Irwin says. “I love the battle of getting through to these guys.”

Commitment like that is typical for Irwin, who once went so far as to bring a veteran’s laundry home to wash it before an important job interview. “We’ve had guys who can’t put food on the table,” he says. “I’m not the kind of guy who can just go home at night knowing he’s hungry while I enjoy a meal with my family.”

Irwin says he inherited a deep sense of patriotism from his aunt and uncle who raised him, and he knew early on that he wanted to serve his country.  “I wanted to do my part,” he says, “so I signed my paperwork between my junior and senior year of high school for a three year contract.” In all, Irwin would serve eight years in the United States Army between 1999 and 2007, three of which were spent at war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Perhaps Irwin’s biggest asset is his ability to establish trust with his veteran constituents, especially those who have been wounded in combat. “It’s a whole different language we use,” he says. “When we’re talking in military terms, they’ll tell me things they won’t tell someone who hasn’t served.”

Irwin, who earned his current position as a fellow in the House of Representatives Wounded Warrior Program, says he’s sure helping vets will be his career in the long term. But one day, down the road, he hopes to start a business that specializes in employing disabled veterans. “I want to be able to bring in guys who are at risk, give them a job, train them, and then move them into the competitive workforce,” he says. “I’ll give them the tools to succeed, and then they’ll do it on their own.” 

That kind of dedication comes from Irwin’s deeply rooted conviction that service and loyalty to your fellow soldiers doesn’t end when you come home. “We take care of each other when we wear the uniform, so why would that change when we take the uniform off?” he says. “We have to continue to fight for each other.”