How the VA's Compensated Work Therapy Program Is Helping Veterans


Many veterans feel lost after the military. They know they provided a great service to their country while they were in uniform, but they enter the civilian world and wonder where they fit, what their skills translate into in the civilian world and sometimes even why anyone would want to hire them.

If this is you, consider the Department of Veterans Affairs' Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program. CWT aims to provide veterans an opportunity to gain valuable long-term employment skills and also give them the resources they need for a hopeful future.

recent VA blog post highlighted CWT for the assistance the program gave to three veterans, two of whom had problems with alcohol. One of those veterans, Tim, now works to help other vets get the help they need. He helps them to understand that "it's OK to ask for help, and it's OK when they accept help." The biggest reward is when they, like him, are the ones doing the helping.

The program has helped numerous veterans and is one of many that can help you get resituated. The first step is asking for and being willing to accept help.

Some Examples of CWT Programs for Veterans

The program helps veterans develop basic work skills that are essential to successful long-term employment, such as appropriate dress or appearance, personal hygiene, punctuality and getting along with other co-workers. It does this by putting veterans in full-time employment positions and working with mentors.

CWT helps veterans through the following programs, as outlined on the website:

Incentive Therapy

Incentive Therapy (IT) is a pre-employment program that provides a diversified work experience in the VA medical center for veterans who exhibit severe mental illness and/or physical impairments. IT services extend for an indefinite period of time, as are clinically appropriate, and may consist of full- or part-time work at nominal remuneration. Each participant in the IT program has an individual treatment or service plan, case manager and treatment team to monitor services.

Sheltered Workshop

The Sheltered Workshop (SW) provides an opportunity for work hardening and assessment in a simulated work environment. The activity in SW is paid for on a piece-rate basis, and the average length of stay generally is 4-6 months, based on the veteran's individual treatment team and service plan.

Transitional Work and Vocational Assistance

Transitional Work (TW) is a pre-employment vocational assessment program that operates in the VA medical center and local community businesses. TW participants are screened by vocational rehabilitation staff, assessed and matched to a work assignment for a limited time, as deemed clinically appropriate. TW work assignments are supervised by worksite staff and impose the same job expectations that are experienced by non-CWT workers in the organization or company.

Supported Employment and Post-Employment Supports

The Supported Employment (SE) program consists of competitive employment with therapeutic supports integrated into treatment. The focus of SE is to assist veterans with psychosis and other serious mental illnesses in gaining access to meaningful competitive employment. When there is a co-occurring mental health diagnosis, limited SE services may be available on a case-by-case basis to veterans with spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries.

Veterans perceived to have significant barriers to competitive work can engage in full- and part-time employment with appropriate supports and workplace accommodation. SE follow-ups may continue indefinitely, but generally participation and supports are phased out after the veteran maintains employment independently.

Transitional Residence (Not Available at All CWT Locations)

The Transitional Residence (TR) program is a work-based Psychosocial Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program that offers a therapeutic residential setting for veterans involved in CWT. The TR program provides a rehabilitation-focused residential setting for veterans recovering from chronic mental illness, substance-use disorders and homelessness.

TR provides a bridge between hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment and successful community reintegration. It utilizes a residential therapeutic community of peer and professional support, with a strong emphasis on increasing personal responsibility and achieving individualized rehabilitation goals.

For more information, visit the Compensated Work Therapy Program webpage and read the VA VAntage Point blog.

The Next Step: Find the Right Job

Whether you want to polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, can help. Sign up for a free membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

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