After ‘Hell,’ a Career: Veterans with disabilities now have Traverse City-based vocational rehabilitation

For Sean McCarthy, the opportunity to help veterans with a disability get a job is its own reward.

McCarthy is a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He works with veterans with disabilities who are looking for work.

The services run the gamut, from interview coaching to resume writing. For those who are severely disabled and unable to work in traditional employment, independent living services are also available.

Counselors like McCarthy must possess an M.S. in Vocational Rehabilitation. It’s also encouraged to obtain certification in the field through the non-profit Commission on Rehabilitation.

McCarthy was completing his graduate studies when the terror attacks of 9/11 took place.

“I’m also a veteran, and when I saw that, I decided I wanted to go to work for the V.A.,” he said.

He accepted a position in Seattle, where he worked for more than 13 years, before taking the newly created position in Traverse City.

McCarthy’s Detroit-based counterpart, John McCarthy, says there are 10 “outbased” offices like Traverse City’s in Michigan. The establishment of the office in Traverse City enabled those who wished to use the service to do so much more easily.

“Northern Michigan was under-served before,” said McCarthy, who is not related to Sean. “The nearest counselor’s office was in Mt. Pleasant. If you were in the eastern U.P. you had to go to Mount Pleasant or Iron Mountain.”

The counselors travel during the week to meet with veterans. Officials in Mt. Pleasant used to drive to Traverse City. Now, Sean McCarthy still drives to various parts of the region and the eastern U.P., but uses the Traverse City office as a home base.

The services are available to any service member or veteran who is honorably discharged and has a disability rating of 20 percent or more from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Both McCarthys say it is important that those receiving assistance realize that that nothing is guaranteed to them and the veteran must do their part.

“The veteran has to be invested in the program,” said John McCarthy. “It’s a partnership.”

Sean McCarthy said the effort comes from the vets themselves and that he and his colleagues are “just a support.”

“They have to get the interviews, do the interviews,” he said. “They’re 99 percent of it.”

To begin the process, northern Michigan applicants go online to ebenefits.va.gov. From there, they connect with Sean McCarthy and begin the process of identifying how their preferences and abilities match up with potential careers.

“Congress requires we do something more [than simply ask],” he said. “We do an interest inventory and find out what kind of work might be most compatible.”

Sean McCarthy says he is fully committed to serving veterans with disabilities and that working with the men and women who have put their life on hold to serve their country is innately rewarding.

“Many of these veterans have been through hell. They’ve risked everything in service to this country,” he said. “Helping a veteran get their life back, find their purpose again, now that the military experience is behind them, is the best part of what we do.”

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