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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Spearheads Initiative to Boost Employment for Disabled Veterans

January 30, 2006

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Almost seven months into this new VA initiative, 40 veterans are participating in the Supported Employment program at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and ten have jobs. One veteran who believes the program has worked for him is Parnell Carpenter, who is in recovery from bipolar disorder. "What the Supported Employment program did for me in four months was reestablish my independence and gave me my dreams back. My employment specialist believed in me, and most importantly, he was there to talk to me and see me at anytime," said Carpenter, above left, discussing job opportunities with his employment specialist, Joseph Edwards.
Photo by: Bobbi D. Gruner, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Officer

 

HOUSTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs has offered employment assistance and guidance to veterans for many years. Currently, more than 7,000 veterans participate in VA Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) programs nationwide each year.

Last year, the Substance Dependence and Vocational Rehabilitation Program at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) received funding to serve as a mentor site for a new initiative focusing on veterans with severe mental illnesses. The “Supported Employment” program is designed primarily to help disabled veterans find and maintain competitive employment. This new model for vocational rehabilitation avoids lengthy pre-vocational assessments and shelter-type work experiences in favor of directly placing and supporting veterans in community-based jobs tailored to their individual preferences, needs, and strengths.
 
“Employment is an integral part of the recovery process. It is considered important, not only because of the direct improvements in activity, social contacts, and income but also because work promotes gain in related areas such as self-esteem, illness self-management, community tenure, integration into the community, and quality of life.  Research has shown that competitive employment builds confidence, increases coping skills, heightens motivation, and raises self-expectations and, finally, it has been proven to be what people want,” said Anthony J. Kerrigan, Ph.D., coordinator, MEDVAMC Vocational Rehabilitation. 
 
Veterans in this program are assigned to an employment specialist who can dedicate a significant amount of one-on-one time in the pursuit of employment, even if the veteran prefers only a few hours of work per week, and in supporting the worker indefinitely after the hire.

“As an employment specialist for the Supported Employment program, I provide counseling services, 24-hour emergency services, peer support groups, expedition of VA care, liaison with employers, problem-solving assistance, employment counseling, on-site job coaching, benefits planning, and general assistance. Basically, I am a veteran’s partner in finding and keeping a job they want,” said Joseph Edwards, MEDVAMC employment specialist and a trainer for the VA’s South Central VA Healthcare Network.

The MEDVAMC has four employment specialists on staff trained to seek and locate jobs in the community that match veterans' interests, skills, deficits, and ability to work. These individuals are key in facilitating a veteran’s ability to successfully work and live in the community; pinpointing individuals’ vocational interests, capacities, needs, and preferences for job matching; identifying opportunities for veterans in local business community; and creating effective partnerships that integrate mutually supportive services within VA and community.

Almost seven months into this new VA initiative, 40 veterans are participating in the Supported Employment program at the MEDVAMC and ten have jobs. The goal is to have 40 percent of program participants working in the community at any time. One veteran who believes the program has worked for him is Parnell Carpenter, who is in recovery from bipolar disorder.
 
“When I entered the program, I was homeless, unemployed, dealing with disability-related issues, and thinking of moving back to Chicago.  What the Supported Employment program did for me in four months was reestablish my independence and gave me my dreams back. My employment specialist believed in me, and most importantly, he was there to talk to me and see me at anytime. It is not often you can call a government employee or caseworker for all sorts of matters. I truly believe my employment specialist cares about my interests and my achievements. Even after he found me a job, he continues to remain in contact and we talk about the dreams I want to achieve now. With his help, I have found a place to live and most importantly, competitive work.  I want to go to school and I believe I can. I know my employment specialist will be there to push me toward my aspirations,” said Carpenter.

“We believe this new initiative will further our mission of maintaining and improving the health and well-being of our veterans,” said Joseph DeVance Hamilton, M.D., Mental Health Care Line Executive.

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