Chances are good that if you walked into the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center’s main entrance at building five, you’ve seen Army and Vietnam Veteran Thomas Edmond.
Veterans and staff refer to Edmond as “Mr. Thomas.” As the information receptionist, Edmond provides information and directions to those navigating Dublin VAMC’s 4.2 miles of hallway.
Armed with a charming smile and friendly demeanor, Edmond happily mans his post at the reception desk. He performs his duties as if he does not have a care in the world. But life has not always been unicorns and rainbows for Edmond. In 2005, he enrolled in the homeless program at Dublin VAMC.
“You have to want to get help,” Edmond said. “I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. But when I opened one door for help, more doors for treatment started to open for me.”
Once Edmond completed the homeless program, he enrolled in the substance abuse program. Then the PTSD program. In 2014, Edmond started volunteering at the Dublin VAMC.
“I made the choice to never go back to where I started. I kept enrolling in programs that were really challenging,” Edmond said. “After conquering a few challenges, my life started to get back on track.”
In the photo above, Edmond (left) reviews a report with Air Force Veteran and chief of Voluntary Services Keith Griffin.
A job for everyone willing to work
Edmond’s hard work paid off when he qualified for the VA’s Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) – Transitional Work program in 2016. CWT is an umbrella of Vocational Rehabilitation Programs. The goal is competitive employment with follow-along services as long as the Veteran expresses and identifies barriers to employment.
“I believe there is a job for everyone who is willing to work and has the goal to live independently,” said Karen Jackson. Jackson is the center’s lead vocational rehabilitation specialist. “We have to work collaboratively with the Veteran to discover their skill sets and expertise.”
CWT’s five major components provide different levels of therapeutic opportunities. CWT – Transitional Work allows Veterans to work at the medical center temporarily and for up to 35 hours per week.
Other programs include Supported Employment, Community Based Employment Services, Supported Self Employment (entrepreneurism) and Supported Education. The Supported Education program connects Veterans to the Veterans Benefits Administration for education and other training benefits.
“I was asked by former chief of Voluntary Services Dean Swann if I wanted to work my CWT hours at the front desk assisting Veterans,” Edmond said. “I was only too happy to accept.”
A permanent position
Because Edmond made such a difference, leadership created a full-time position and permanently placed him as a direct hire. Edmond has a knack for identifying critical situations and providing immediate support.
A Veteran once showed up for an appointment to see his primary care physician. After a brief conversation, Edmond felt the Veteran was in crisis and escorted him to mental health. Edmond worked with the front-line staff to have the Veteran seen immediately.
“Thomas is a great asset to the Veterans visiting Carl Vinson VA Medical Center. And to Voluntary Service,” said chief of Voluntary Services Keith Griffin. “He works proactively, assigning volunteers to escort Veterans around the facility. He provides unparalleled customer service to Veterans who have difficulty navigating VA health care.”
Edmond walks through the doors every day determined to make a difference in someone’s life. As a result, many Dublin VAMC Veterans seek his guidance and counsel. After all, Edmond has been through many of the challenges they face today.
“I know how challenging life can be. I’m here to share the different programs and resources available to Veterans who might be struggling,” Edmond said. “It’s my mission to make sure every Veteran who wants to overcome obstacles in their lives has someone in the VA who can steer them in the right direction.”
Edmond’s story is remarkable and an inspiration to any Veteran with the willingness to work to achieve success.
James W. Huckfeldt is the deputy public affairs officer at the Carl Vinson VAMC in Dublin, Georgia.