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Work therapy program empowers Veteran, provides employment and purpose

Man stands outside medical center with hands on his hips.
VA helped Army Veteran Lardrick Alexander identify his PTSD and equipped him with techniques to overcome suicidal thoughts and social isolation.

“Compensated Work Therapy saved my life,” said U.S. Army Veteran Lardrick Alexander. “They gave me hope.”

Facing challenges
Alexander served as a combat medic for nearly seven years. 

“I worked in a lot of emergency rooms,” he said. “I saw a lot of death and dying.”

He left the military feeling lost, angry and confused. Alexander said he was not the same guy who went into the Army. 

“I isolated a lot and used drugs,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable in crowds, so I couldn’t go out and socialize. I secured myself in my home, checking the doors to make sure they were locked. I did that for 15 to 20 years.”

Alexander eventually lost his home and teetered on the verge of suicide. 

Changing the path
He sought help through Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center’s Compensated Work Therapy (CWT). This vocational rehabilitation program, a component of VA mental health, equips Veterans through supportive programming to strengthen communication skills, coping mechanisms and interpersonal skills, so they may thrive in life and in the workplace. 

“I took classes with other Veterans in similar situations,” said Alexander. “It was very supportive and encouraging.”

Alexander participated in an eight-week, in-house program that allowed him to identify his challenges. 

“My nightmares, the isolation and why I was so uncomfortable in large groups – it had a name,” he said. “It was PTSD. That was freeing to know why I was angry and using drugs.” 

CWT also assists Veterans with employment through partnerships with community businesses, industry and other federal agencies. The program supports Veterans and employers, providing consultation and serving as a resource to ensure a successful job match.

After graduating from the program, Alexander continued attending weekly meetings to reemphasize and reinforce the skills he learned. These tools were critical to his success, enabling him to manage interactions with peers and supervisors proactively. 

He started working at VA in Environmental Management Systems before accepting a promotion as an air conditioning mechanic. Alexander, age 59, has worked at VA for four years now.

Maintaining forward momentum
Alexander feels better equipped to handle stress now. He regularly utilizes tools he’s learned in the program, particularly breathing techniques to help manage anxiety and frustration.  

“You live with PTSD,” he said. “It’s not something you get past.”

Alexander also recognizes the warning signs of situations that may escalate. Instead of being triggered, he steers concerns toward a calmer outcome. 

Finding a firm foundation
“My spirituality and routine ground me,” he said. “That’s why I sought help in the first place. I start every morning with prayer. It comforts me and reminds me to be patient with others.”

He said faith and an empowering VA team opened doors for him. 

He expressed gratitude for his approachable support network and credited Mike Nolan, supervisor of the boiler plant, with giving him an opportunity to work at VA. 

Alexander also acknowledged Chris West, chief of facilities management. 

“He helped me be successful by having an open-door policy,” said Alexander. “I can talk to him if there’s something going on. He’s always been there to help me out and I appreciate it.”

With a clear career path and tools to manage his PTSD, Alexander considers his job a blessing. 

“The good Lord opened those doors for me and that’s where I’m supposed to be in life,” he said. “I enjoy it.” 

To learn more about the Compensated Work Therapy program at VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, call 720-857-5280.

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April Love is a writer-editor on the VISN 19 Creative Task Force. She began working for VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System in 2016 and lives in Aurora, Colorado.

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