May is Mental Health Month. One program within VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is a valuable resource for Veterans’ emotional well-being: employment. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Vocational Rehabilitation Service (VHA Voc Rehab, not to be confused with VBA’s Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment) promotes recovery for certain Veterans by helping them achieve and maintain meaningful employment.
Compensated Work Therapy (CWT), a program offered through VHA Voc Rehab, improves Veterans’ mental health because it helps Veterans with functional or emotional conditions find or return to work.
Social determinants of health
Access to employment is one of the social determinants of health (SDOH), which are the environmental conditions where Veterans live. When Veterans have access to positive SDOH, they have better health outcomes.
Partnerships are important to VHA Voc Rehab’s work, because the CWT team partners with national and local employers to provide Veterans with employment, including within VA.
“Meaningful employment means hiring the right Veteran in the right job at the right pay,” said Donna Tasker, national marketing director for VHA Voc Rehab. “Our staff members are vocational rehabilitation specialists who provide employment support and services to both the Veteran and the employer at the work site. They ensure the right job match continues.”
Help for Veterans with previous convictions
VHA Voc Rehab’s CWT support is also available to Veterans who have had previous convictions or incarcerations. Those can keep Veterans from getting work and leave them unable to access related SDOH (such as housing, financial security and health care).
Tasker notes employment is key to Veterans’ mental health.
“Studies suggest that work contributes to the recovery process by providing meaning in one’s life. Consequently, that can promote recovery in participants. Employment provides meaning, stability, a sense of community and self-identity.”
VHA Voc Rehab is available for Veterans who are eligible for VA health care and who are living with mental illnesses or physical impairments, which can be barriers to employment. As a result, the CWT program’s services, Ms. Tasker said, are highly integrated with a Veteran’s clinical care of any kind.
Helps employers hire the right Veteran
Employers should also be aware that the CWT program’s services are available. “We can also provide services to our employer partners to hire the right Veteran,” Tasker said.
VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) helps create partnerships throughout VHA. Many OCE-managed partnerships support SDOH.
“Partnerships that support the SDOH and Veterans’ mental health are critical and CWT’s employer partnerships do just that,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, OCE chief officer. “Employment is, in fact, one of the SDOH that OCE is focused on for this year’s VHA Community Partnership Challenge. OCE recognizes just how valuable access to that resource is for Veterans.”
Tasker agrees: “Strong partnerships ensure that each Veteran has the opportunity to demonstrate their skills, abilities and capabilities.”
Veterans and employers can learn more about VHA’s CWT program here.
Learn more about partnerships supported by OCE here.
Dr. Jamie Davis is a health systems specialist for OCE.