Disabled veterans discover powerful option to rejoin workforce

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Pat Golden served 20 years in the Navy, getting rocked and rolled on a number of ships that served around the world.

“You can get thrown out of your rack at sea,” Golden said. “You can slip on a deck. You can bang your head on a valve.”

His service included one unforgettable September morning, when he was docked in New Jersey.

“You could hear the engines whining and moaning and we looked up and one of them almost clipped the mast,” Golden said, referring to the jets that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9-11. “Something like that happens, you want to stand up and say you’re not going to mess with America. We’re going to go out and defend our post. We’re going to defend our people.”

And he did, until retirement. At that point, he had physical pain from head to toe.

“And a touch of PTSD mixed in,” Golden added.

The physical jobs he was trained for no longer made sense for the Tiverton resident.

That’s when the Providence Veterans Affairs office helped him find Veterans Assembled Electronics, a Providence-based vocational school that also has four other locations.

VAe was founded in 2009 by John Shepard, a Vietnam combat veteran. Most of the instructors and job placement personnel are also veterans.

Since moving in to Rhode Island, VAe has placed 26 of its 32 students in jobs at several high-profile companies including Honeywell, Universal Studios Orlando and Lockheed Martin.

Golden is one of several disabled veterans who are currently going through the 40-hour-a-week, 5-month program. He’s considered 100 percent disabled by the VA, but the 53-year-old shrugs it off, referring to his younger classmates.

“The kids back behind me,” said Golden. “They went to combat. They watched their buddies get blown to pieces. So, I had it kind of easy.”

Now, together, they’re learning skills that could place them in jobs that range from repairing roller coasters at theme parks to working with 3D printers.

“There’s one [3D printer] right behind you,” Golden said proudly. “We built it. And we’re learning how to trouble shoot it and repair it. It doesn’t get much more high-tech than that.”

Some students have entered the program on permanent disability, and after finding electronics-related work, they’re able to get off the government program.

“Everybody here does want to work,” Golden said. “They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t.”

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