DALLAS — Gulf War Veteran Anthony Ransom lost his way after leaving the Army, but knows his life is now firmly back on track. He attributes much of this to the Department of Veterans Affairs and its Cemetery Apprentice Program.

“My family taking me to the VA was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Ransom, who admits alcohol was at the root of his past mistakes. “My perception of the VA was completely wrong. The people there who helped me and the vocational rehabilitation program, saved my life.”

Ransom was one of the first graduates of the National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) Cemetery Apprentice Program in 2012. As part of VA’s initiative to end veteran homelessness, the NCA works with VA’s Homeless Veteran and Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) programs to identify potential program candidates from sites throughout the country. More than 64,000 veterans annually participate in the CWT program nationwide.

“We are pleased to have dedicated employees like Anthony at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery,” said Larry Williams, Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery director. “Graduates of the Cemetery Apprentice Program are not only veterans themselves and understand the importance of our mission, but are extremely proud to have such a noble job.”

In the Cemetery Apprentice Program, veteran students spend a year learning their trade and receive advanced instruction in areas such as professionalism and conflict management. Leading up to graduation, each student completes more than 1,300 hours of classroom and on-the-job training. Upon graduation, they can elect to remain at their training cemetery, compete for positions at other federal facilities, or take their skills to the private sector.

“I wanted to get back to work and staff at the Dallas VA told me about the Compensated Work Therapy Program,” said Ransom. “When I drove through the gates, I knew I wanted to work here. From day one, I was treated as an equal and immediately given responsibility. It’s a privilege to work at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery and to care for my fellow veterans.”

Located in the southwestern part of Dallas adjacent to Mountain Creek Lake, the 638-acre Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery opened in May 2000. Since that time, the cemetery has conducted more than 59,000 interments of veterans and eligible dependents.