By Keith Parkis
It’s called the CWT program, which stands for “Compensated Work Therapy,” and it helped change my life.
Here’s my story…
I was laid off in October 2000 from a great job that I held for 21 years. Over the next seven years, I bounced from job to job at least 10 times. In one of those positions, I was laid off three times. I was at the end of my rope. All I wanted was to get a decent, good-paying job and to regain that feeling of self-respect and gratitude. Instead, I had that feeling of low self-worth that comes from being out of work too long.
I was getting very frustrated with the whole situation and started to turn to alcohol for comfort. Now, we all know that alcohol only makes you more depressed. My bills were not getting paid, I wasn’t eating well and I had two major medical setbacks – I was genuinely stressed out. Finally, I filed bankruptcy.
My doctor and friend Richard Butz, from the VA Primary Care Out-Patient Clinic in Schenectady, N.Y., noticed that I was depressed and told me about the CWT program. I was knocking at their door the very next day. After speaking with them, I felt much better. I went through the routine rehabilitation program along with several other sister and brother Veterans. We exchanged stories about our lives and gave each other advice and ideas on how to cope.
The CWT program also provided temporary jobs at the VA hospital in Albany and at the Gerald B.H. Solomon-Saratoga National Cemetery.
It was a wonderful opportunity.
All we had to do was prove that we were reliable and that we could put in a good day’s work. The CWT program also helped me build my resume and improve my interview skills. They also provided job leads. As part of the program, we had to be in constant search for employment.
I worked in plumbing and maintenance at the Albany VA Medical Center while in the CWT program. My friend, David, who was also in the program, mentioned that the Saratoga National Cemetery where he was employed was a great place to work. I put in a request to transfer to the cemetery and began working there.
I worked very hard and was never late. I was often the first person there and even made coffee for everyone (I still do). I learned many of the important duties of a cemetery caretaker from the other employees. October marked the end of the season and the program ended, but I came back via the CWT program again in 2009.
After a couple of months, I was hired as a temporary emergency employee. I worked through the season and was laid off again that October. I had difficulty finding any kind of employment after that, but I never gave up. I connected with a temporary job agency and did get some work here and there, but it just wasn’t anything I could depend on.
Once again, I was feeling like I had hit rock bottom. Then in May 2010, everything changed. My ship had come in! I was hired full-time as cemetery caretaker. All of my hard work, dependability and believing in the CWT program had paid off. I couldn’t be happier! I am currently a WG-8 engineering equipment operator.
So, you see, I didn’t just get a great job, I got a great career. I work with a great team of guys and we’re all proud to be here and to be a part of honoring our fellow Veterans. I am quite sure that if it hadn’t been for the help I received from the CWT program, I would not have gained this opportunity. Thanks to everyone at the CWT.
Dan Cassidy, director of the Gerald B.H. Solomon- Saratoga National Cemetery, adds:
“Keith is a hard worker. He’s happy to take on any task given him and is extremely dependable. He is a Veteran and takes great pride in serving Veterans.
In general, the majority of folks in the CWT program just want a chance to get their lives back and to be productive. When I was at Riverside National Cemetery, we hired nine or 10 employees from of the CWT rolls and all were hard workers.
I am a firm believer in giving these Veterans a chance to reclaim their dignity and self-worth by hiring them when they show the initiative required to serve our Veterans. I think that when Veterans serve Veterans, it’s therapeutic, especially for those dealing with unresolved issues from their combat experiences.”
Keith Parkis is a United States Air Force Veteran and a proud VA employee. He lives in New York State