Veterans Health Administration
A job...and a positive identity
“Not just a job…a career.”
by Keith Parkis
The “Compensated Work Therapy” program helped change my life.
Here’s my story…
I was laid off in October 2000 from a great job that I held for 21 years. Over the next seven years, I bounced from job to job at least 10 times. In one of those positions, I was laid off three times. I was at the end of my rope. All I wanted was to get a decent, good-paying job and to regain that feeling of self-respect and gratitude. Instead, I had that feeling of low self-worth that comes from being out of work too long.
I was getting very frustrated with the whole situation and started to turn to alcohol for comfort. Now, we all know that alcohol only makes you more depressed. My bills were not getting paid, I wasn’t eating well and I had two major medical setbacks — I was genuinely stressed out. Finally, I filed for bankruptcy.
My doctor and friend Richard Butz, from the VA Primary Care Outpatient Clinic in Schenectady, N.Y., noticed that I was depressed and told me about the CWT program. I was knocking at their door the very next day. After speaking with them, I felt much better. I went through the routine rehabilitation program along with several other sister and brother Veterans. We exchanged stories about our lives and gave each other advice and ideas on how to cope.
The CWT program also provided temporary jobs at the VA hospital in Albany and at the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.
It was a wonderful opportunity.
All we had to do was prove that we were reliable and that we could put in a good day’s work. The CWT program also helped me build my résumé and improve my interview skills. They also provided job leads. As part of the program, we had to be in constant search for employment.
I worked in plumbing and maintenance at the Albany VA Medical Center while in the CWT program. My friend, David, who was also in the program, mentioned that the Saratoga National Cemetery where he was employed was a great place to work. I put in a request to transfer to the cemetery and began working there.
I worked very hard and was never late. I was often the first person there and even made coffee for everyone (I still do). I learned many of the important duties of a cemetery caretaker from the other employees. October marked the end of the season and the program ended, but I came back via the CWT program again in 2009.
After a couple of months, I was hired as a temporary emergency employee. I worked through the season and was laid off again that October. I had difficulty finding any kind of employment after that, but I never gave up. I connected with a temporary job agency and did get some work here and there, but it just wasn’t anything I could depend on.
Once again, I was feeling like I had hit rock bottom. Then in May 2010, everything changed. My ship had come in. I was hired full-time as cemetery caretaker. All of my hard work, dependability and believing in the CWT program had paid off. I couldn’t be happier. I am currently a WG-8 engineering equipment operator.
So, you see, I didn’t just get a great job, I got a great career. I work with a great team of guys and we’re all proud to be here and to be a part of honoring our fellow Veterans. I am quite sure that if it hadn’t been for the help I received from the CWT program, I would not have gained this opportunity. Thanks to everyone at the CWT.
VA Program Matches Vets and Employers
Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) is a Department of Veterans Affairs vocational rehabilitation program that endeavors to match and support Veterans in competitive jobs.
This is a program for Veterans who have suffered setbacks and wish to regain control of their lives. Compensated Work Therapy offers counseling, training and assistance to those who qualify.
CWT programs strive to maintain long term quality relationships with business and industry to promote employment opportunities for Veterans with physical and mental disabilities.
“Nobody in the program sees themselves as ill, they see themselves as workers.”
— Dr. Anthony Campinell, Director of VA’s Therapeutic and Supported Employment Programs
Veterans are placed in jobs after the CWT employment specialists consult with companies regarding their specific employment needs.
The CWT program was designed to provide a structured evaluation of work potential, improve work behaviors, and prepare the Vets to return to the work force. Preparing résumés, developing interview techniques and completing job applications are important skills participants learn in the program.
Being able to return to work is a high priority among veterans of every age, according to Dr. Anthony Campinell, Director of VA’s Therapeutic and Supported Employment Programs.
“We helps Veterans find jobs they’re interested in and help guide them in that process. And we help train them to be successful in that job,” Dr. Campinell explains.
“VA doctors refer Veterans into the CWT program. CWT employment specialists discover the Veterans’ interests and strengths and skills, find a likely employer, and then engage the employer and the Veteran with a work opportunity. Clinicians understand that helping somebody go back to work contributes to their health and their future.”
The program helps identify problems the Veteran may be having while working and then bring that problem back to his or her treatment team, primary physician or psychiatrist. The doctor can then adjust the Veteran’s treatment or the CWT employment specialist can modify the workplace situation.
Dr. Campinell adds, “The CWT staff, along with the Veteran, negotiates with the employer on possible changes in their workplace arrangement. CWT staff members also work with employers to develop jobs not previously available at an employment site that meets company needs and capitalizes on the skills, talents and interests of individual Veterans.
The CWT Program works with employers to hire Veterans as company employees through CWT’s Supported Employment program or to have Veterans at the worksite in a temporary, non-employee status through CWT’s Transitional Work program. “This is a great deal for the Veteran and the employer because the employer doesn’t have to pay all the costs of hiring somebody and they don’t cover health care or life insurance. They just pay an hourly rate,” Dr. Campinell adds.
More than 400 formerly homeless Veterans with disabilities were hired in 2010 and more than 20,000 Veterans are in the transitional work program every year.
Across VA there are 169 CWT programs providing vocational services for 60,000 Veterans with mental and/or physical limitations.
As Dr. Campinell notes, “The CWT program is a clinical approach based on research that says this is one of the best ways for disabled people to find work. The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is 70 to 80 percent, and one of the best ways to give somebody an identity, besides being disabled, is giving them a job.” The professional Compensated Work Therapy staff provides:
- State of the art vocational rehabilitation services
- Job matching and employment supports
- Vocational Case Management
- Work site and job analysis
- Consultation regarding assistive technology
- Reasonable accommodation
- Guidance in addressing Americans with Disabilities Act regulations compliance
Dr. Campinell points out that, “A unique discovery in the program evolved when VA medical center staff saw individuals in the CWT program turn into very successful employees and then hired them when openings came up at the medical center. It’s like a stepping stone”.
“Veterans are interested in working for VA because there’s something about working in the VA that Veterans, including me, find important. There’s a level of respect that exists in our system already and they appreciate that. And not just financially. It changes the Veteran’s self-image. Having a job is an extremely positive experience.”
Typically, CWT programs are located within VA medical centers in most large metropolitan areas and many smaller communities. You can find them on the CWT Locations page.
Information on the program is available at www.cwt.va.gov or by calling (800) 355-8262.
And check out some of our great Success Stories.
In some locations CWT is also known as Veterans Industries.
“This program helps remove the stigma of going to the doctor,” Dr. Campinell concludes. “Nobody in the program sees themselves as ill, they see themselves as workers. Work doesn’t cure mental illness, but it sure makes you feel better.”