Vietnam Veteran Charles Taylor is transitioning back to work with the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program.
Two years ago, Taylor came to VA for help after an emotional crisis left him hospitalized over the Thanksgiving holiday.
"I was a substance abuser, but I didn’t think I needed treatment until after the crisis," Taylor said. A New Orleans native, Taylor and wife were living with his son’s family after losing their own home to Hurricane Katrina. Veterans in situations like Taylor’s are considered "underhoused" and are often eligible for VA’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans and CWT programs.
"We provide realistic and meaningful job opportunities for Veterans and encourage them to reintegrate into the working community," said Alvin Thomas, licensed master social worker and CWT program manager.
The CWT program has four different components: supported employment, homeless Veterans supported employment, transitional work and vocational assistance. Each component targets a different population of Veterans and has specific eligibility requirements.
For example, supported employment focuses on Veterans who have a chronic mental illness.
Veterans involved in substance abuse treatment are often referred to CWT as part of their treatment.
"The program helps complete the rehabilitation process. If a Veteran is clean and sober but doesn’t have a job, he probably won’t stay clean for very long," Thomas said.
Taylor had been an over-the-road truck driver, but in 2006 his health problems ended that career.
"It crushed me when they said I couldn’t drive anymore because of my health," he said.
Taylor continued to look for work, but jobs were few and far between.
Now in the CWT program, Taylor works in the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System warehouse in Harahan, La.
"I wanted to see if I could do something other than drive a truck," Taylor said. "CWT is about transitioning back to work."
Once Taylor’s six-month CWT assignment is complete, he will be equipped with the job and social skills necessary to seek and secure other employment within the community. He will also have recent experience to share with prospective employers.
"Mr. John Triplett, the warehouse manager, told me I do a good job and I can use him as a reference. That really means something to me," Taylor said.
The next step for Taylor may be a bigger one than just a job search. He’s considering college.
"I really want to be a helper in my community and the best way to do that is to go to school," Taylor said. "I think I’ll be ready."