Name: Hank Ward
Branch of Service: Army
Period of Service: 1999–2007
“When I go to bed at night, I thank God for VR&E.”
Hank Ward joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1999 so he could serve his country as his grandfather did. While he found his time in the military "a rewarding experience," the harsh realities of serving during the wars in Bosnia and Iraq took their toll, and Ward was disgnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
When Ward returned home from his final Iraq tour, he began using crystal meth as his way of coping.
"Over there it was a constant state of alert," Ward said. "It was like going from 100 miles per hour to back here in the United States, where everything was in slow motion. That’s what tempted me to use drugs. It put me back up there at 100 miles per hour."
Jobless and bouncing between different family members' homes, Ward finally reached out for help in 2009 after twice being incarcerated.
"I called my mom at 4 o’clock in the morning," he said. "She had been telling me that I needed to go to VA to get some help. Finally, I hit rock bottom, and that was the only option."
Ward’s mother took him to Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, La. After Ward completed detoxing and rehab, his counselor told him about the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program for Veterans with service-connected disabilities. Ward jumped at the second chance to go back to school.
"Just having a high school diploma nowadays, you can’t really find a good job anymore," Ward said. "You've got to have more education than that to find a good job and hold on to it."
Ward was able to go to school and train to be an electrician. He used several VA programs to accomplish his goal, including a compensative work program, VR&E, and HUD-VASH (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs
VR&E helped him choose his career, paid for his books and tuition, offered support and guidance, and provided a subsistence allowance in addition to the disability compensation he was already receiving. After three semesters, Ward maintained a 4.0 GPA and was voted student body president of Northwest Louisiana Technical College.
Ward has come full circle, and is now working at the same VA hospital that took him in when he desperately needed help.
“I’m an employee of the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, which has been such a major portion of my life for the last three years. It’s done so much for me,” Ward said. “So now I’m working there and able to give back to other Veterans.” He plans to continue improving his life and to someday become the head electrician at the medical center.
Ward credits VA and its programs for getting him to where he is today.
“I let go of my ideas and what I thought I should be doing and followed their suggestions, and it’s made all the difference in the world,” Ward said. “I ran my life into the ground, and it’s a blessing that they’ve been able to help me come back. Now, with what I’ve accomplished, those experiences have changed my ideas of where my life should be. Now I’m able to run my own life.”
Ward has a message for any other Veteran who needs help, but for whatever reason isn’t reaching out:
“If you want a change, if you want something different, if you want better, then take a little advice. Put your pride away and bring it out later. Right now you need to step up and do something for yourself.”
To find out how VR&E can help you, visit www.Benefits.VA.gov/VocRehab.