(Originally published on pages 6-7 of the Summer 2018 issue of Opportunity magazine published by NIB by Sharon Horrigan. To read whole magazine click here)
…”Alphapointe, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, offers customer support services for the VA in California, Missouri, and New York. In addition, the agency has been making medicine bottles for the VA since the mid-1990s. In 1995, two employees worked on the VA contract. Today 27 employees who are blind or visually impaired work around the clock to make, pack, and ship the medicine bottles. U.S. Navy veteran Antonio Arbelo is one of them.
Finding a Follow-up Career
Arbelo enlisted in the U.S. Navy in February 1985. After basic and advanced training, he was assigned to an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, and for nearly eight years it was his job to, as he says, “blow things up.” Wounded on a mission, he lost sight in one eye and was medically discharged in 1992.
After his discharge, Arbelo says, he had to find himself all over again. “My marriage failed and I found myself fighting another war, this time inside myself.” But he kept going, won that war, and is at peace now. He worked 10 years for Kansas City, supervising a crew of 15 men who maintained the city’s water system infrastructure, but retired after losing vision in his other eye as a complication of renal failure.
Not ready to retire completely, Arbelo joined Alphapointe in October 2016. As a full-time packer and machinist in the plastics department, he helps fulfill the VA contract. “I’m pretty sure I’ve made a lot of the bottles in my own medicine cabinet,” he says with a laugh.
He appreciates the work and the veterans he serves. “It gives me purpose. Veterans have so much to offer,” says Arbelo, “but we don’t often get to show how what we learned in the military applies in the civilian world. And all veterans can bring a lot.”
Like Arbelo, Aaron “AJ” Johnson doesn’t like to get into too much detail when it comes to his three tours of duty in Vietnam. He will tell you that he was drafted and went into the Navy, where he served as a machiner’s mate on Navy vessels. He will mention – only when prompted – that he was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism while trying to rescue a wounded soldier. And he will recall that as difficult as his war experience was, coming home was difficult too. “We’d come home after being deployed for three months to people throwing things at us,” says Johnson. “It was a volatile time in the U.S.”
Honorably discharged after serving four years, Johnson worked in construction until 1992, when he failed the eye exam to get a chauffer’s license and realized he was losing his vision. He joined Alphapointe as an office product machinist three years ago and loves the work. “I’m so grateful to be here,” he says.”…