Every day, Darrell Coleman walks out of his nondescript office building, after hours inside processing people in need. The Illinois Department of Human Services caseworker loves to help others, which is why at an age many dream of retirement, the 60-year-old is back at school.
“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that I did not know in terms of the social work,” he said. “It gives me different options.”
It’s possible thanks to a state program called “Upward Mobility.”
Up next for Coleman was an internship opportunity at the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“That was something I really got excited about,” Coleman said.
He’s a military man himself, with 32 years of service that might be culminating in the most ironic battle of his life.
The internship is mandatory, but the state isn’t allowing him to take a leave of absence to complete it.
Coleman received permission for six months of unpaid leave, after going through three levels of approval months in advance. But 16 days before his VA internship, he received a denial from an administrator in Springfield.
The response to his frantic follow-up emails cited “excessive backlog” and “attrition/turnover.”
Coleman said he was told, “if we let you go, that means that we’re not going to be able to cover the amount of people that are coming in to apply for benefits.”
“That is not my problem, that is a state problem,” Coleman said.
Coleman’s first day as an intern came and went, but he couldn’t go. His late-in-life quest to move up the ladder at work came to a standstill.
“I do not understand how a state can have a program that is supposed to help employees to advance, and to get promotions, but at the same time you will deny your own program?” he said.
The VA told Coleman on Friday they can’t hold an internship spot for him, now that it’s already two months past his start date.
A Department of Human Services spokesperson admitted the agency is dealing with a staffing shortage.