The following Veteran’s journey is in support of Compensated Work Therapy Week.
My name is Mike Onrubia and I’m a disabled combat war Veteran. I’ve been a patient at the Hampton VA since 2008.
I’ve been a patient with VA even longer and have been admitted several times at other VA hospitals over the years for my PTSD and suicide attempts.
Ten years ago, I was fired from my job. I was homeless, living in my van, and then it broke down. After that, I got into some trouble with the law and ended up in jail for a felony.
I served my time, but for years after, I couldn’t get a job. Not even in fast food. I had given up and lost all hope of ever working again. I figured the felony kept me from any real employment.
I resigned myself to living off my disability compensation, but it wasn’t enough.
Could not afford daughter’s college tuition
Earlier this year, my oldest daughter graduated from high school and got accepted into an expensive college out of state that I couldn’t afford. My benefits weren’t going to work for her either because they wouldn’t transfer.
That stress, coupled with some other personal issues this year, put me in a severe crisis. My VA doctor referred me to Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist Holly Starks to see if she could help me out. I doubted it but gave it a shot anyway.
Initially, I was apprehensive when I met with Starks. My PTSD makes me guarded, cynical and short-tempered. She listened to my story, my full story. That was rather cathartic.
Vocational rehabilitation specialist provided help… and sound advice
Starks assured me she could help me. She helped me contact VR&E to see if I had any benefits left so I could finish up my degree. She helped me prepare my resume and navigate USAJOBS. She gave me very sound advice on a personal dilemma I was facing, which vastly improved the quality of my life, as well as my family’s.
Veteran Readiness and Employment ended up being a bust (for me) – I had used up all my benefits. That left me with no choice but to find a job. I still didn’t think I’d ever be hired, but Starks forwarded my resume to jobs she thought I’d be able to take on.
Then things started to change for the better. Her guidance on how to deal with my benefits worked and I was able to get them transferred to my daughter.
I applied for the file clerk/scanner position that Starks found at the VA hospital. I got the job. I started work on the day after Labor Day. I love the job, and it’s a really good fit for me. I now have hope that I can have a real career again now that I’ve got my foot in the door.
For the first time in over a decade, I feel like I can work toward my dream of working as a social worker and then a Psychologist, helping my fellow Veterans. I want to give them hope like Starks did for me.
I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for her.
CWT programs are located at all VA medical facilities to provide vocational rehabilitation services to Veterans while developing partnerships with local, regional and national businesses, and industry and government agencies that provide Veteran candidates for employment.
One employer, JDog Junk Removal and Hauling, will feature a public service announcement during CWT week on the Discovery Channel show, “Operation Hidden Treasures,” about the CWT program.
JDog franchisees across the country are owned and operated by Veterans and their families and many partner with our CWT programs to give Veterans employment opportunities.
VA’s CWT staff works to assist these organizations and potential employers with hiring the right Veteran in the right job at the right pay.