At 60, Chicago Veteran proves it’s never too late to start again


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Chicago Army Veteran Johnnie Mims, 60, has a mind like a steel-trap — capable of rattling off to the day and maybe the hour — the length of time since he left the military. After his service ended in 1975,  Mims looked forward to applying his military experience and talent to civilian life. He got a job at the U.S. Postal Service. He married. He had daughters.

Within about 10 years, though, problems surfaced. He split with his wife in 1984. He began using alcohol. Life issues accumulated until he was no longer able to hold down a job. Lacking steady income, he became homeless and remained without a permanent home for 19 years.

Bright spots appeared during this time: Thanks to a 45-day treatment program at the North Chicago Veterans Affairs (VA) facility, Mims achieved sobriety in 1993. He obtained odd jobs helping his buddy sell golf equipment. He worked on and off at VA facilities. He looked after his grand kids.

Yet he often didn’t feel well and regular employment eluded him. He spent years living with his daughter, without a home of his own.

Opportunity Knocks

Not one to give up,  Mims continued to visit Chicago-area VA facilities, where he received medical care and other VA services.

His life was transformed in 2015, he said, when he got a spot in VA’s Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. CWT helps prepare under- or unemployed Veterans like Mims for competitive employment.

“CWT changed my life,” he said. “I worked in the wellness center helping Veterans exercise and exercising myself. I enjoyed being around other Veterans. Vets learn from other Vets, and I learned a lot.”

CWT assigns Veterans jobs that pay a nontaxable stipend, which in Mims’s case was between $400 and $500 every two weeks. “I had a job and a fitness routine,” he said. “I started feeling better.”

He also secured housing with assistance from the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program.

Around this time, VA launched the Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services program. HVCES staffs VA Medical Centers around the country with nearly 150 community employment coordinators (CEC) who help homeless Veterans secure gainful employment.

He’s Got Mail

As one of her first acts as Jesse Brown’s CEC, Beatrice Smith-Redd in May 2015 arranged a hiring event with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). At the VA-hosted event,  Mims and 29 other Veterans learned how to navigate the complicated online postal job application process. Once applications were submitted, applicants were to check emails daily and respond to any information requests within three days.

According to Smith-Redd, Mims approached the task with remarkable tenacity. Although he could review email on his phone, he had to use VA’s computer lab to respond to USPS inquiries.

“Every time Mr. Mims received an email, he came to VA in person—four or five times during the process—to respond right away,” Smith-Redd said. “And then one morning as I went to work, I saw him at the bus stop in a suit, tie and overcoat—he was on his way to an interview.”

At 60, A New Start

In July 2015, Mims landed a temporary job as a USPS custodian, for $13.25 per hour. His supervisor praised the quality of his work and his co-workers enjoyed working with him.

Still, he wasn’t quite satisfied — he was determined to convert his temporary position into a permanent one within a year. Beating his own goal, he became full time in eight months, and now earns a comfortable salary, overtime pay and benefits. The permanent spot offers more opportunity for promotion. “I feel good,” he said.

“As Mr. Mims shows, it’s never too late to start again,” said Smith-Redd. “Every time I see him, he’s smiling. Dreams can come true at any age.”

It helps even more, she added, when employers like USPS are willing to work with CECs and Veterans on navigating job application processes and accessing meaningful employment.

The other part of the equation, Mims said, is that Veterans must never give up, no matter their situation.

“I’m living proof of that,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going, and keep trying. Look at me.”

Learn about VA employment initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness at www.va.gov/homeless.

Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless can call or visit their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist. Veterans and their families can also access VA services by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).


Image of Michael Taylor, director of homeless Veterans outreach and strategic communications Michael Taylor – director of homeless Veterans outreach and strategic communications – joined the VA Office of Public and Affairs in 2010.  He holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (MCRP) degree and has worked as a survey statistician, public housing redevelopment analyst and local government program administrator.

Author

Michael Taylor

Comments

  1. Wynne Lewis    

    Wonderful stories! Wonderful increase in services!

    You have permission to use my name. I, Wynne Lewis, was formerly married to the last pilot shot down in Vietnam, Frank Lewis, B-52 pilot.

    It has taken me my lifetime without VA benefits since I’m no longer married to a vet, to understand, with professional help on my own, to understand that we both suffer from PTSD. It is a real phenomenon. Get Help!

  2. Edwin Blanco    

    Thank You God.
    God is always Good.

    Thank You Mr. Michael Taylor, this is not just a reality for a lot of Veterans but an inspiring motivational walk on the hard path of physical and emotional life situations.

    Thank You…
    Edwin Blanco
    SFC, US ARMY, RET.

  3. Joel o    

    Wow. That is a great story.

  4. James D McFadden    

    Mr. Mims’ story is great! To know that he can still work and be happy is truly a gift from God. I just learned I’m bi-polar and all I want to do is work. I’m a self taught artist who’s been dealing with depression because I lost my mom a few years ago. This story has really got me thinking, it’s not over until it’s over. God bless Mr. Mims.

    Thank you,
    J D McFadden

  5. jorge h ayala    

    Way to go Mr Mims we were in about the same time i got out 1972, worked for the P.O. too anyway God Bless you keep on that train Bro !

  6. Craig A Thornton    

    These are wonderful stories of encouragement for vets who have no where to go but in life. But why does it take for us to be completely run down in life for the opportunities or assistance to become available. So many of us are hanging onto the bottom rung of the latter by the skin of our teeth and all we need is the chance to succeed. Before we hit rock bottom and suffer for years alone and in silence. I don’t see the help for them. Is it even out there?

    Craig Thornton
    SGT US Army, Vet

  7. Deborah Showalter    

    I think this is Awesome!!! Just handing a veteran a check does nothing for their own self esteem and pride!! My late husband was in nam and finally got his 100% after fighting for it for years. He would tell me that if he could work again it would have made his day. Due to having 1/2 a lung removed and diabetes there was no way he could handle even a part time job.
    My point is, Keep up the good work!!

  8. Elvyn Irwin    

    This a beautifully written story that at once captures the reader!! It pulled me in, kept me there, and ended with happiness and hope. Mr. Mims, keep telling your story and doing the good work that you do. As the knights of old were wont to say, “Sally forth!”

    Thank you,
    Mrs. Elvyn Irwin
    Charlotte NC

  9. Jennifer R. Boyd    

    Beautiful story, God is always working.

  10. Business Authority    

    It’s a good story, like to hear about good things happening in and around the VA. Too much negativity, and much of it is preventable with a little care. I would like to see the VA, and it’s support channels like Vocational Rehab do a better job of supporting veterans in becoming sustainable business owners. I have tried, but was told by my local Wisconsin VOC-REHAB professional that career track for Self Employment is not possible, and never gets approved because veterans are not successful business owners.

    DEFINITION as stated on the VOC REHAB page for the VA:
    http://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/employment_tracks.asp

    Self-employment

    Self-employment can be fulfilling and may offer the flexibility a Veteran with service-connected disabilities needs. VR&E can aid Veterans who are interested in working for themselves by helping analyze and develop a business plan, and providing training on how to market and operate a small business.

    It does not say, don’t try this because veterans are not approved for this career track. “In my 17 year career, I have only seen one veteran approved!”

    I believe the truth is that VOC-REHAB is not successful in setting veterans up for self employment, please write some on this!

Comments are closed.