CWT Program Helps Veterans Find Employment - Erie VA Medical Center
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Erie VA Medical Center


CWT Program Helps Veterans Find Employment

CWT Team (left to right) Jeff Rose, Lorie Panitzke, Nicole Siira, and Marty Acri

CWT Team (left to right) Jeff Rose, Lorie Panitzke, Nicole Siira, and Marty Acri

Monday, October 22, 2018

Finding and maintaining meaningful employment can be a significant challenge, especially for Veterans struggling with a serious physical or mental illness.  The good news is that Veterans don’t have to go through it alone. 

Erie VA Medical Center’s (VAMC) Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program helps Veterans who have a serious physical or mental illness overcome barriers to employment by offering support throughout the entire job searching process - writing resumes, searching for jobs, preparing for interviews and everything in-between.  Once hired, the CWT Vocational Rehabilitation Specialists continue to support the Veteran to ensure a successful transition through the start of their permanent employment. 

For, Lorie Panitzke, Erie VAMC CWT Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, helping Veterans find jobs that they enjoy and seeing them regain a sense of purpose is what drives her every day.

“I’ve seen Veterans go from homelessness to thriving; they are meeting their goals of maintaining jobs long-term, buying vehicles, living independently and feeling like a part of the community again,” she said.  “That’s the mission: helping Veterans increase their quality of life through meaningful employment.”

The CWT program assists Veterans in providing supported employment services, transitional work, community-based employment, vocational assistance, supported self-employment, and career development supported education.  In fiscal year 2018, Erie VAMC’s CWT program helped place 33 Veterans in competitive employment.  They also provided employment support to an additional 30 Veterans through their Job Club events in the Erie and Meadville communities. 

CWT services are recovery-oriented and focus on each Veteran’s strengths, abilities, needs, and preferences.  For Veterans in the CWT program, that extra support makes all the difference.

Meaningful employment plays a critical role in the overall well-being of our Veterans.  As Erie VAMC’s Vocational Rehabilitation Specialists will tell you, having a sense of purpose and accomplishment is essential for good physical and mental health, and ultimately, is essential in a Veteran’s recovery. 


Latonda Barganier’s Story 
Air Force & Army Veteran, Served from 1979 - 1986

“When I went to the VA, it changed my life,” she said. “People understood what I was going through and they had the right support to help me face my challenges.”

That support included the Intensive Outpatient Program to help Barganier through her addiction and the CWT Program to help connect her to a job.

“I found a sense of purpose again,” she said.  “When you wake up with purpose, you can face just about anything.”

Today, Barganier has been employed at Map Trackers for more than a year.  While she admits that her battle with addiction is something she will always fight, she has her VA community to walk through it with her.  As part of the CWT program, her VA Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, Lorie Panitzke, still checks in on her and her employer to provide support as needed.

Barganier’s advice to other Veterans is to take that first step and connect with the Erie VAMC. 

“They go above and beyond to help you succeed,” she said. “It’s up to you to put the effort in and work for it.  Take advantage of all the resources and services that the VA offers you.  The right support changed my life and it can change yours, too.”


Arthur “Josh” Csombok’s Story
Army & Army National Guard Veteran, Served from 1989-1997

“When I got out of the Army, I was in a low place,” says Arthur “Josh” Csombok, Army & Army National Guard Veteran.  “I went from fitting in and having purpose in the military to feeling out of place in civilian life.  I was homeless several times and had a hard time finding a job because I struggled fitting in to a ‘normal’ life.  It was overwhelming.  Another Veteran told me to check out the VA for help.  I first got plugged into the Homeless Care Team and then Daren Allen referred me to the CWT Program in December 2017.  Today, I have a full-time job and I have a great support system in place.  I never thought I’d be where I am today.” 

In August 2018, Csombok was hired as a full-time housekeeper at the Erie VAMC.  He credits meeting Nicole Siira, Erie VAMC Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, for being the “game changer” he needed.  “She opened doors for me, knew her stuff and supported me every step.  She built trust by following-up with me and with employers.  If one place didn’t work, she had other options lined up for me.  She took the time to help me find the right fit.”

His advice to other Veterans is “Keep going, push yourself forward and ask for help when you need it.  It’s worth it for yourself.”

If you or a Veteran you know would like more information about Erie VAMC’s CWT Program, please contact the Behavioral Health Clinic at 814-860-2038 to speak with the CWT team. 

Erie VAMC’s Job Club – Open to All Veterans

In efforts to help more Veterans, Erie VAMC’s CWT team hosts two Job Clubs which are open to all Veterans interested in obtaining employment.  The Job Club offers employment assistance and support to Veterans in need of help searching for employment.

Erie - Job Club Details:

Date:  Every Monday (except holidays)
Time:  8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Location:  Behavioral Health Clinic, Erie VAMC

Meadville – Job Club Details:
Date:  2nd & 4th Friday of the Month
Time:  9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Location:  PMI 764 Bessemer St., #105 Meadville, PA 16335

For more information about the Veteran Job Clubs, please contact Marty Acri at 814-860-2861, Lorie Panitzke at 814-860-2008, or Nicole Siira at 814-860-2128. 

Community Employers Supporting Veterans

The success of the CWT program would not be possible without the support of local community partners including GECAC, PathStone, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E), PA CareerLink, Dress for Success, local colleges and universities and many other local employers.  Over the past couple of years, our CWT program has partnered with a number of community employers who fully support the mission of helping Veterans find and maintain meaningful employment…and we are always looking for more.

The CWT program partners with interested community employers to provide motivated, reliable Veterans who can perform a wide range of work assignments to employers’ specifications and satisfaction.  For community employers, the CWT program offers an effective cost management option since the VA covers employee benefit costs, insurance costs, and social security taxes.

If you are a community employer looking to hire local Veterans, please contact Marty Acri at 814-860-2861, Lorie Panitzke at 814-860-2008, or Nicole Siira at 814-860-2128.


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