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.

Mike Onrubia

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.

Holly Starks

Holly Starks

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.

Oct. 17 begins Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) week.

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.

By Mike Onrubia is a Veteran and a civilian payroll technician at the Hampton VAMC

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Published on Oct. 17, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.4 min.

Views to date: 426


  1. armybeef68 October 21, 2021 at 11:39 pm

    Gotta love it, I open up, say everything I’ve been going through, and my comment doesn’t get approved…Typical

  2. John Gordon October 21, 2021 at 10:40 am

    Viet Vet, Drafted. Figured I had bitching rights from the gate, being inducted…and I did my share of it while in the Army.
    But if it was one thing I brought with me into the military I had learned as a kid, was keep my mouth shut… Unless I wanted to get my ass kicked.
    It has served me well.
    After an extended combat tour, I ETS’ed out as soon as I stepped foot back in the states. I chose not to incumber my confusion of being back in the world by adding a marriage to everything else that was rattling around in my head.
    I had picked up pretty soon that I had been effected and changed by my experiences in a combat situation.
    I buried myself into work, school, and a private life. I was getting use to being alone…I was totally in charge of my life. Or at least I thought so…
    Couldn’t find a drug that would erase my memory…I tried them all…
    I have no magic for who ever is reading this. You are the one who finds your own path out of the Hell you find yourself in…
    I tried Truth, it seems as though it’s worked better than some of the other avenues I’ve tried. I’m almost 50 years into answering some of the questions I’ve always had.
    After 6 or 7 years being alone, I walked into a meeting of VietNam Veterans of America. The first time I had been in a group of Viet Vets, and saw the commonality we all shared.
    It changed my direction.
    It’s not about misery loves company.
    My immediate take on meeting up with my brothers was… “It takes the same amount of energy to be positive as it does to be negative”. I have chosen to be positive. Does the VA frustrate me? You bet… but I no longer feel like a dog chasing a parked car…
    I try to be “positively” Tenacious when dealing with the VA. Getting them pissed off gets you no where.

  3. Tim Donahue October 21, 2021 at 9:03 am

    Been fighting them for 8 years due to calcified granulomis interstitial lung disease fibrosis got sick at Ft Campbell but being that i had smoked their blaming everything on my COPD same symptoms, can’t breathe !!! But they don’t care i have an appeal going on at the moment maybe someone will see whats actually happening… I’m DISGUSTED !
    As far as MH here where im at, they do pretty well like to hand out the meds but never once have i been turned away some good doctors but they can only do so much for us , it’s up to us to stay strong and push forward… And if you can’t get to the VA they have been using the telehealth system you can do it over your phone so don’t give up !!!!! “Keep up the Fire”

  4. Jason Sharpe October 20, 2021 at 11:01 pm

    I’m so happy for you and your daughter! I’m trying my best to get better and your story is beautiful. Thanks.

  5. Jean Palladino October 20, 2021 at 10:45 pm

    I’ve been trying to get benefits for my husband for 11 years. The VA likes to delay, deny and hopes you drop dead. They make it so difficult that they hope you give up trying to get anything from them but never give up because that’s exactly what they want. The way veterans are treated is despicable.

  6. eatspit October 20, 2021 at 9:48 pm

    The VA is full of spit. I spent 12 months in Afghanistan during OEF 10, got caught up in smoking marijuana with other soldiers and then they kicked us out after the deployment. I had 1.6 yrs of service and an OTH, I can’t even get an ID card because I didn’t serve the minimum “2 years” B.S., even went to ADRB back in 2012 and given a NO go for upgrade…I have bad substance abuse and court cases for possession and couldn’t even be allowed into a VA drug rehab because of the 2 year rule. Phuck the VA.

    • Tim Donahue October 21, 2021 at 9:10 am

      That Sucks !!!

  7. Eira October 19, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    I’m glad there are a couple comments opposite of what the article is trying to say. For every one veteran getting help from the VA, there are nine veterans never getting any help, treated like no one (oh yeah they do say thank you for your service, as if I did this shit for them) or if you somehow get a job you get fired cause you are too aggressive or too many appts or too loud. No one whispers in combat. But no they won’t know that. I had 9 psychologists in 4 years including a few therapists who ruined my chance of employment with the FBI by telling them my PTSD will interfere with the job. Listen to us? Do you really?

  8. Jeff Cleveland October 18, 2021 at 3:26 am

    My story is pretty similar. No kids to further their education. But the VA would not help me cause I have a service dog. Lost my home, homeless for over a year, now in a sht hole with a scumlord. I am grateful for a roof over my head don’t take me wrong. Unable to keep good jobs, so I was forced to retire. And still no help from VA.

  9. Ramon Ulloa October 17, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    I have a similar story, but not as bad. Felony, Probation, on and off dead end jobs, attempted suicide once, many, many years ago. I have compensation, but never applied for PTSD. I gave up years ago looking for help from the VA. I went to a couple of therapy sessions, but the appointments were to far away from each other. Im doing better and live with my Mother, but im not exactly where i thought i would be at the age of 41.

    • A October 20, 2021 at 11:13 pm

      Everyone on this post needs to reach out to Save a warrior (SAW). They are a veteran run PTSD retreat that is focused on non VA nom Judgmental help for veterans who suffer from PTSD and trouble transitioning veterans post military service. They will help you through any and all issues you are going through.

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