VA Northern California Health Care System
The Road to Recovery
The Road to Recovery
"If someone were going to give you a million dollars, but it would take three months, you'd still take it," says Joe Qualls, referring to the wealth of programs and benefits available through the VA Northern California Health Care System. Joe is a Desert Shield/Storm Veteran, former VA employee, and volunteer.
Joe started his journey as a supply technician in the United States Navy, which gave him the chance to travel the world. During his four years in service, he saw Brazil, Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, and much more. Joe wrapped up his tour of duty by deploying to Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
When Joe came home to Placerville, things weren't easy. He would go from job to job, quitting due to crippling anger and depression. "Every year that went by, I got more depressed," said Joe. He applied for many state programs, but was not eligible. Over the course of several years, an injury to Joe's leg from his service became more and more painful. He had gained some weight, and he had yet to treat his depression effectively. "I was in a lot of physical pain. I weighed 347 pounds; I was just done," he reported. Then one day, Joe decided to walk into the VA Northern California's McClellan Outpatient Clinic.
That day changed Joe's life. Members of a Homeless Patient Aligned Care Team, or HPACT, welcomed Joe and asked him about his needs. He was enrolled in primary care and saw a doctor, who asked Joe to list everything that needed attention. Before Joe left that day, he had received a prescription for glasses and medication, immunizations, and a leg brace. In short, Joe was able to see how VA treats the whole patient and not just one symptom at a time. "It felt great," he went on. "There were multiple aspects of me being healed all at once." Shortly after that, Joe was back on his feet. Joe became such a big fan of VA Northern California, he decided to work here. Joe began working as a housekeeper in 2013. Shortly after that, he was promoted to supervisor. "It's a great program; all the housekeepers were Veterans. I felt like I was part of a team again. There's real camaraderie," he recalls. Due to other great opportunities, Joe had to leave VA employment early last year.
These days, Joe donates his time to the Sacramento VA campus, working for voluntary services. He runs a program that helps put together bicycles from the rotary club for Veterans, and another that takes Veterans fishing; he is also planning on starting a hiking program. When asked about why Joe spends so much time in the service of other Veterans, he replies, "I just want to give back…for the rest of my life." Joe also advocates for VA and its services to Veterans. "Nothing happens overnight," he says. "There are so many programs, and it's just getting better and better. You have to decide you want help. VA opens the door, but you have to kick the door down."