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Helping Veterans find employment

Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) staff at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center help connect Veterans with employment. Photo by James Arrowood.
Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) staff at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center help connect Veterans with employment. Photo by James Arrowood.

How do Veterans who have been unemployed get back into the workforce? The VA has a program called Compensated Work Therapy (CWT), which is designed to help Veterans develop skills and gain experience to become fully employed.

CWT is a recovery-oriented program, aligned under Mental Health services, that abides by the philosophy that all persons with a disability can work.   

At the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, nine staff members are dedicated to connecting Veterans with employment through the CWT Program—helping Veterans reach their fullest potential in the community, independently care for themselves, and giving them confidence and purpose. CWT’s goal is to provide an array of therapeutic, individualized support that is highly integrated within clinical treatment to assist Veterans in achieving and maintaining meaningful competitive employment.  

“I work in Compensated Work Therapy because it gives me the opportunity to help my fellow Veterans get their lives back on the right track, while giving me an extremely rewarding job,” said Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist Stacy Ries. “It is so fulfilling to watch Veterans transform back into confident, productive members of society.”

CWT Programs

CWT encompasses three distinct programs: Transitional Work, Community Based Employment Services and Supportive Employment. 

The Transitional Work program serves Veterans with a clinical need for therapeutic work who are eligible to receive medical care in an outpatient setting and are referred by a VA provider for services. The program uses work partnerships in various departments throughout Charleston VAMC and with community-based employers to help develop, motivate, reinforce and encourage good work habits. One community partner is Charleston Marriott Hotels which allows Veterans the opportunity to work as temporary employees at their hotels, with the opportunity for future full-time employment.    

“I enjoy working in the Transitional Work program because of the end results,” said Charleston VAMC Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Melinda Loyst. “I had a Veteran on my caseload that was doing transitional work in housekeeping at the VA. I convinced the Veteran to get a foot-in-the-door as a permeant employee in housekeeping. One month later the Veteran secured a job at our VA call center, two months later they were hired in Logistics Service, and then four months after that the Veteran was offered a highly-graded management position in Border Patrol. Their story is the perfect example of the progress and growth Veterans can have through Transitional Work.”

The Community Based Employment Services program serves Veterans who have a history of sporadic employment, difficulty maintaining a job, difficulty initiating and following through on their job search, or are unable to obtain competitive work independently.  It provides a range of services leading to direct placement in competitive employment, where an employer hires the Veteran, and the Veteran receives continuing clinical support to promote job retention.

CWT’s Support Employment program serves Veterans who meet the criteria of Serious Mental Illness, PTSD, Spinal Cord Injury and Polytrauma.

Charleston VAMC’s CWT program is highly successful.  The Community Based Employment Services and Supportive Employment lead VA’s Southeast Region for employment after discharge, and the Transitional Work Program ranks near the top in the region as well. CWT staff is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for Veterans with career-focused employment that matches the Veterans skill set with community jobs opportunities. 

Community partnership to employee Veterans

Charleston’s number one industry is hospitality and there are many open jobs in the field.  Charleston VA’s CWT team is currenting tapping into this job market.  Every Tuesday morning, a professional hospitality recruiter comes to the VA and meets with job-seeking Veterans to discuss career goals and local job openings, revise resumes, and fill out applications. Veterans often leave with an interview date set at a local hotel or restaurant.  This program is called “Turnaround Tuesdays” and it’s a community partnership with Explore Charleston.  The employment partnership addressed two needs: Charleston restaurants and hotels need long-term workers and the VA’s workforce program needs reliable, accessible employers.  Since establishing the partnership in early spring 2018, more than 50 Veterans have been placed in Charleston-area hospitality jobs, making the program Explore Charleston’s most lucrative local recruiting effort.

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