In the dozen years I have been with the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), I have witnessed some amazing things that remind me what I admire about our country and the civil servants who give back to Veterans experiencing tough times. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a wonderful program for Veterans who have suffered setbacks and wish to regain control of their lives. Known as Compensated Work Therapy (CWT), this program offers counseling, training and assistance to those that qualify.

It’s not easy to graduate from this program. Participants are asked to make a sincere effort, with a positive attitude, and are held accountable for their training and time management. Participants are also subject to random drug testing. This is called “work hardening,” which teaches good work ethics. The CWT program was designed to provide a structured evaluation of work potential, improve pre-vocational work behaviors, and prepare the “person served,” as the participants are called, to return to the workforce and daily norm.  Preparing résumés, developing interview techniques and completing job applications are important skills participants learn in the program.

CWT is operated through VA Medical Centers, but many national cemeteries participate by offering work as cemetery caretakers. NCA leadership has prioritized the use of CWT, hiring 38 permanent employees and providing transitional employment for 500 Veterans through the program. NCA ensures strict compliance with the program’s guidelines, provides a fair chance for the Veteran to succeed, and maintains open communication with the CWT staff.

Working in a national cemetery, especially as caretaker, can be very demanding.  Work must be completed no matter how hot, cold, wet, muddy or icy it may be outside.  Veterans and their families have earned outstanding service in their time of need, especially since the Veteran was willing to serve when our country was in need and at any cost. I have twice now been lucky enough to work side by side with Veterans enrolled in the program, as well as a number of graduates. My first experience was at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, where I was assistant director. Today, as director of South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, I am again serving with two Veterans positively affected by the program. One graduate is a temporary cemetery caretaker and the other is a permanent employee, assigned as a cemetery representative.

These employees are a vital part of our cemetery operation and the South Florida Team. I cannot stress enough how proud I am of them and of my colleagues, who have welcomed them into a productive life and workforce. We remain grateful for the opportunity to assist those who are working hard to rebuild their lives. I am pleased by the progress I see in each and every employee here, as well as the flawless service they provide to our Veterans and families.

Was this information new to you?  Were you aware of the program and how important it is to those trying to re-establish their lives after serving?  Do you know a Veteran who may be interested in hearing about this opportunity? If so, please share the information and contact your local VA facility for details. You may just make the world of difference to someone who was willing to give their life for you.

Mishelle Kochel is the director of the South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, Florida.

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Published on Sep. 1, 2011

Estimated reading time is 2.8 min.

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15 Comments

  1. W. Jack Gipson February 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Somehow, I’ve always known that work would center around our national cemetaries.
    Having just accidently discovering Compensated Work Therapy. It is with gratitade
    that I may perticipate.

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  3. Tony September 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    CWT is a great program for Vets. You should also take a look at the supported Employment program that is apart of CWT. The Vocational Specialist of the Supported Employment program are professionals who are specially trained to assist individuals in returning to work and provide services that support the client and employer in a holistic manner. VA Puget Sound Health Care System 253-583-1800

  4. Liam September 13, 2011 at 6:18 am

    I have learned the hard way… Regarding work it is better to chart your
    own course when it comes to work. I have chosen to become a solo
    Practicioner of law…

  5. george September 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I have found out over the years that it depends where you seek treatment, or example I have had the best care and treated with dignity and respect in the mid west. Minn, Wis, and Iowa. But if your in the south, Houston, Dallas, Memphis and are homeless. You are so screwed!! You might as well sleep in the weeds.

    Even the VFW, American Legion, and Am vets treat you like shit in those city’s however the upper mid west has state veteran programs that will help you get back on your feet.
    You just have to be patient.
    Carry on.

    • Ken Kincaid September 12, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      I am a 65 year old disabled Vietnam Veteran. I have been trying to get help for over 3 years and all I get is the same BS. The latest is I have to have a Doctor at the VA request a consult. They tell me they need to make sure I disabled. What kind of morns cant look at my 12 inches of medical records or check my disability rating. Nothing more than gate keepers. Were are still fighting a war that is over 40 years old…….Thanks America

  6. LAWRENCE SHEPHERD September 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I work for a NCA cemetary and they treat the temp like shit, I am a disabled vet and in Ill they have there own click, very disrespectfull to temps, full time jobs open and they do not post them, so much for veterans preferance. temps do not get trained on all the equipment, there were jobs that i know I had more points but was not selected. what next?

  7. LAWRENCE SHEPHERD September 7, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    all bull

    • HM1 Dan Hurst Ret September 12, 2011 at 3:48 am

      Its not bull I am a 100% disabled vet most of the rating is from PTSD. I applied at three different VA hospitals and was asked the same question “what makes you think you can do the job with PTSD” I told them that I was able to finish college to get my degree without any problems and that I had worked at a Naval Hospital for two years before retiring from the military was elected President of the HM1 association and had 45 letters of commendations and 21 medals on my chest to prove that I can handle my PTSD. What have you achieved. His reply I was never in the military! Then how do you know what I can and can not do if you have no background to compare to. His reply I have a degree in business management and thats enough. I thanked and left. I recieved my denile letter one week later. No Bull yea right.

  8. JC September 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I know of a Boston College alumnus from their MSW program. She graduated top in her class despite her rating of being rated at 100 percent for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She applied for job after job after job and was always overlooked often instead the VA will hire civilians (even with the policy of Veterans First!) After a while she needed a job, any job cause living in Boston is an expensive city that the 2400 or so a month she was receiving was not sufficient enough. She ended up allying for CWT and is now doing maintenance type work. She is awesome but because of the stigma associated with PTSD and veterans she is doing work that she is way too qualify to do.

    The one time she had an interview at the VA the interviewer straight out asked “why do you think that you can do this? How are you going to manage your own PTSD?” She said that she excelled at her field placements without her PTSD getting in the way.

    So how many of these CWT employees has been beaten down, told that they are no good. Told that they can not do something because of their disability? How many of these veterans who are doing the hard labor work are holding graduate degrees from prestigious universities?

    • Danny September 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

      The person interviewing her must be a non vet or no military experience at all….
      It’s a shame the VA has employees that act that way during the interview process…..
      It’s hard enough for a vet to find a job but why is this poing on anyway???
      They make it sound so easy to get a job at the VA but it’s not easy at all, politics is the key!!!

  9. Tom September 6, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Mishelle,
    How true your forum is. I’ve been in the Lake Worth cemetery, Arlington,several Civil War cemeteries. There is a calming emotion and sense of pride there I’ve experienced. I wish every veteran would make an effort to visit one. It’s good for the soul,a feeling of reverence. The employees are friendly and gracious ,the grounds are immaculate,an excellent place to heal.

    Thank you

    • phil September 9, 2011 at 1:18 am

      Danny, this is soooooo true ! I go to my local VA clinic and they are short staffed. I’ve begged to work there, As I have PTSD and having problems finding a job, It’ next to impossible to get on the va unless you know someone,,,,,,,,,,/ let alone sleep with them.

  10. Glen Duckett September 4, 2011 at 12:11 am

    It was an honor to see this photo, I used to be an employee of Mountian Home National Cemetery where this photo was taken. While at MHNC the CWT program utilized with great success, most days our mission would not have been met without their help. I always counted it a blessing seeing the graduates become employee’s.

  11. Richard, Cummings September 3, 2011 at 5:23 am

    I think it is a great program, I first enrolled in it at the Saint Cloud,MN, VAMC, that led me to a good job with the VA, in Saint Cloud. I had several problems copping with my problems, and left employment and returned to my old ways. I realized that I could not continue the old ways and sought help, and ended up in the program at the Minneapolis, VA, I first worked at the Ft. Snelling cementary, and after that, was put into the program inside the VAMC, I am very greatful of the opportunities that have been offered me, they benifited me immensly

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