Published: May 1, 2018

Thirty years ago, Rob Brazell (MCompSci’98) was diagnosed with AIDS and given a year to live.

He survived the ordeal, but it took him 15 years to fully recover. Rather than return to work as an aerospace engineer, Brazell celebrated his second chance at life by vowing to help disabled veterans overcome their disabilities and return to work. The nonprofit organization Project: Return to Work (R2W) is the result.

“I persevered and beat that diagnosis all to heck,” Brazell said. “I used to build rockets and satellites until I was diagnosed. R2W is the greatest way I know to give back.”

Established in 1998 in Boulder, R2W provides employment services and vocational rehabilitation services to wounded service personnel and their spouses. In addition, R2W offers specialized vocational evaluations, career counseling and entry into a nationwide employer network to help applicants transition back into the workforce. Support is provided by a team of career counselors and volunteers.

R2W uses an advanced online personality assessment to match applicants with employers based on personality, education, experience and skills. Client services are free to disabled veterans, qualifying spouses and diverse communities thanks to charitable grants and donations.

An example of R2W’s many successes is one of the first soldiers they placed in employment. The soldier was severely injured in the war in the Middle East, and Brazell provided services to him at Camp Williams in Utah. The soldier had always wanted to be a civil engineer, and after he left the military, there was a job waiting for him with a civil engineering firm where he received on-the-job training. Eventually, he returned to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

“What we’re doing is engineering a good day at work for them,” Brazell said. “Career counselors and mental health professionals work with them to find the tasks they can do and that they like to do.”