Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Work Program Offers Veterans A "Way Back"

July 28, 2003

Houston VA Work Program Offers Veterans A "Way Back"

Veterans Industries has provided vocational rehabilitation services to veterans for decades and yet, little is known outside of the VA about the treatment successes of these programs.

Released: 2003/07/28

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Transitional Work Experience program participant, Lawrence Sanders (left), stops and talks with Peggy Moore, assistant manager of the HVAMC Environmental Management Section. Five days a week, eight hours a day, you will recognize Sanders as the smiling and affable housekeeping aid on the HVAMC's 4th floor, taking care of the auditorium, business offices, and the Oncology Clinic. "I think this job will give me the break I need to get back on my feet and into the workforce, plus I enjoy talking with everyone around here," said Sanders.

PHOTO: Mike Spratt, HVAMC Media Section

HOUSTON, TX - Lawrence Sanders, an Army veteran, has always dreamed of opening his own vehicle detail shop. He has encountered a few bumps along the way, but now believes he is back on track. "Everybody has dreams and goals, and I'm trying to find my way back," he said. Sanders admits he got mixed up with the wrong crowd a few years ago and made some mistakes in judgment. "I've paid my dues for that and now I want a better life. It's all about attitude."

This past March, Sanders started in the Incentive Therapy (IT)/Veterans Industries (VI) program with the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC), then advanced to the Transitional Work Experience program (TWE). Five days a week, eight hours a day, you will recognize him as the smiling and affable housekeeping aid on the hospital's 4th floor, taking care of the auditorium, business offices, and the Oncology Clinic. "I think this job will give me the break I need to get back on my feet and into the workforce, plus I enjoy talking with everyone around here," said Sanders.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) maintains over a hundred Veterans Industries Work Therapy programs nationwide. Approximately 7,000 veterans complete these programs each year. VI is a therapeutic work-for-pay program in which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) contracts with private industry and federal agencies for work performed by veterans. These Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) programs were established in the 1950s. The majority of veterans involved participate in outpatient mental health programs, and live in VA domiciliaries or supportive housing in the community.

At the HVAMC, the comprehensive treatment plan for patients with substance use or misuse, or mental health problems includes assessment and referral for vocational rehabilitation services. This program began at the HVAMC in 1994, and each veteran is offered an opportunity to participate in TWE.

Last April, TWE significantly expanded at the HVAMC to include two certificate-training programs in the areas of housekeeping and patient escort. During these 90-day on-the-job training programs, some veterans receive a certificate that documents their proficiency in hospital linen processing duties while other veterans may receive a general housekeeping certificate. Veterans with the desire to develop more advanced skills receive classroom and on-the-job training in hospital safety, body mechanics, patient room cleaning, equipment operation, proper handling of biohazard trash, customer service standards, infection control, special procedures for transporting wheelchair and stretcher patients, and techniques to clean critical care areas such as surgical suites, spinal cord units, and nursing home areas.

In addition to the housekeeping and patient escort training programs, veterans receive valuable work experience in shipping and receiving, medical supply, grounds keeping, food service, and wheelchair repair. HVAMC management has already expanded the TWE program to other job sites. In May, eleven veterans began work as grounds keepers at the Houston National Cemetery.

Veterans Industries has provided vocational rehabilitation services to veterans for decades and yet, little is known outside of the VA about the treatment successes of these programs. Recently, a segment of the video "VI/CWT Partnering with America's Veterans" was filmed at the HVAMC. The goal of this video is to challenge corporations searching for quality workers to consider an invaluable and greatly underutilized resource, a veteran. The HVAMC Veterans Industries program has been accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities since 1999, and recently received reaccreditation until 2005.

Of the TWE program at the HVAMC, Sanders said, "I didn't want to go through another drug program. Too many just don't work. Here at the VA, it was different. I started listening to the counselors and the possibilities. It's about the best program I've come across. It's motivation. The counselors give us motivation. They don't treat us like criminals or addicts. They don't classify us as that was what you were, that's what you will be. The program here gives you a better outlook, keeps your motivation high, builds up your self-esteem, keeps your head clear."

Sanders is also pursing his dreams by starting a vehicle detail business out of his home. "The VA offered me a second chance. You have to stick with it. If you give up, it's over," said Sanders.

If you would like more information about the HVAMC TWE program, call the HVAMC Specialized Evaluation and Rehabilitation Program Director at (713) 794-7116/7044.

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25