Disabled Veterans: Health Safety Interns

Disabled veterans returning from the military are often at a loss for what kind of career to pursue. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, the UT Health Science Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center developed an internship program to help disabled vets return to civilian life.

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Finding a job isn't necessarily the problem, but finding a career is. Jake Clay served in the U.S. Air Force for four years working in bioenvironmental engineering. But then he sustained injuries to his back and his eye and couldn't do the heavy labor required for his job.

"A guy's kind of going crazy as to what's next. And so I thought when I first got out, I was like ok I'm going to get out, start a business and go from there with the experience I gained from the Air Force. But it was totally different. I had to reevaluate everything because I could no longer be out in the field doing that type of work."

Clay is one of three interns in a program at the UT-Houston Health Science Center. Dr. Robert Emery runs the program. He partnered with the Houston VA Hospital to develop an internship which would train disabled vets to do other jobs -- jobs they may have never considered before.

"So within the health and safety department at the University of Texas, we have taken the three volunteer interns and stationed them within one of the units. And they're working side by side on a daily basis with other safety professionals. And then we're supplementing that with some training courses and we're also getting the opportunity to get people out to meet professionally and interact. And our hope is at the end of the four and a half months they'll have developed a good exposure to a work setting they might not have previously thought about."

Emery conceived the idea for the internships after interacting with several disabled veterans while conducting disaster preparedness training at the VA. He found many of them were having a hard time finding new career paths and assimilating into normal daily life. Jake Clay says that used to be his story.

"I've learned a lot of valuable things in this program, just in the short three months that we've been here." [Reporter] So what are your plans for the future? "Hopefully to get hired on an an environmental protection person at a school or some industrial facility or something down the line."

Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...