VA Palo Alto Health Care System
CWT Veteran Adopts Attitude of Gratitude
There was a time when Joe King, after spending years incarcerated, thought he had no chance of re-entering the workforce. The Army Veteran had served multiple prison terms, and the courts did not want to give him another chance at freedom. Facing the prospect that many who have repeat prison terms face – an extended future in prison – King was met halfway by a few allies who helped shape the course of his next couple years.
“I was involved in a lot of crime before coming to the VA,” King recalled. As he explained, he once worked good jobs, holding executive positions with Macy’s and Circuit City, while also helping his wife run a business. But working 12-hour days and overextending himself took a toll, and King says he “gave up when all that went the wrong way. I took a wrong turn at the ‘Y.’”
Thanks to the advocacy of Dr. Matt Stimmel from Veterans’ Justice Outreach, however, King was able to hit reset on his life, coming to the VA for recovery programs and eventually landing at the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program. King explained that Stimmel, along with a sergeant in prison, pushed for him to go to the VA for rehabilitation after prison.
"Sometimes angels get sent to you and you listen."
Stimmel said that he pushed for King because he believed in his determination to change his life. “He was just really earnest in his desire to get help,” he said. “He was really patient and understanding of the process. He was willing to wait and be patient with the court, with the judge, and with me.”
King and Stimmel worked through the process of Veteran court together, with King’s progress and commitment to recovery even impressing a district attorney who was initially resistant to giving him the opportunity.
“Sometimes angels get sent to you and you listen,” King said, also praising his other “angels” in the CWT Program, Dr. Stephanie Wong, Dr. Hedva Porat and Jesse Lee, all of whom King credited with helping him get through the program and land a permanent job. “This program [CWT] is an amazing opportunity to get your life in order. I just have an attitude of gratitude now.”
King said the assistance and encouragement from CWT helped keep him motivated in his job hunt. “I wasn’t thinking I was going to get a job,” King recalled, thinking back on his time after his last prison term.
Getting a competitive job offer did turn out to be a challenge, but not for the reasons King would have expected. As Wong explained, he faced one obstacle after another in the hiring process, from a case of mistaken identity leading to a wrongful arrest, to a block in securing funding for his peer support certification.
“He literally got caught in the system at every point in the process, and through no fault of his own,” Wong said, going on to praise King’s ability to persevere in his quest to reach his goals. “He was really patient and he stayed focused. He trusted his providers and he trusted the process.”
That persistence paid off this past February when, after working a short-term assignment with the VAPAHCS’ Environmental Management Service through the Transitional Work Experience Program, King was finally offered a full-time, permanent position at the Menlo Park campus.
Wong said that the offer was just a matter of clearing the obstacles, as King’s boss at EMS wanted to hire him on permanently just a few months into his assignment.
Working at the Menlo Park campus and living on-site at the new Willow Housing structure, King now has achieved many of the goals he set out to accomplish, including reconnecting with his family. As he explained, he recently spent time with his brothers for the first time in years.
“Now they see that I’ve changed, they see I’m living a life of personal responsibility,” he said.
Stimmel said that he couldn’t speak highly enough of the journey King has made since he first met him. “Joe’s been an absolute rockstar,” he said. “I’m super proud of what he’s done in treatment and in getting his life on track. He’s a pretty remarkable success story.”
King said that a huge part of his transformation was sticking with his treatment plan and having an open mind, and that he would recommend longer term treatment to other Veterans looking to turn their lives around.
“You’ll take care of things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to accomplish [in treatment],” he said. “A lot of people have the attitude of ‘I want it now,’ but it doesn’t work like that. You have to put in the time and be open to suggestions. Six months is nothing compared to the rest of your life.”
To learn more about the CWT Program at VAPAHCS, visit the CWT website.