Blessings in disguise: Voc rehab and employment for transition and integration


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March 20 marks the 23rd anniversary of a bad car accident that changed my life and my Army career. It’s also my birthday.

Eva's car accidentFor years, I have struggled with why the accident happened to me. What did I do to deserve the pain I struggle with each and every day? When I left the military, I thought the accident had got the best of me. Little did I know, it was probably the best thing to ever happen to me… pain and all.

After two unsuccessful stints in the corporate world, and a failed bid at self-employment, I lost my home, and I ended up in a mobile home with my four children, no car, and my husband in another state. I was so down, I even applied for food stamps–but without a car, I couldn’t make it to my appointment.

I felt that there was more to this life, something more I could become that I had not yet reached; I needed an education.

I researched the VA website to consider my options. Montgomery GI Bill wasn’t right for me, and I wasn’t eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) seemed to offer more than my other choices, and if needed, a counselor who could help me with necessary adaptive equipment and employment help afterward.

I applied to VR&E and was scheduled an appointment. I borrowed my mom’s truck to get to my appointment. That’s when VR&E’s Sholanda Taylor walked into my life.

As a counselor, Sholanda understood my needs. She knew I was in pain from my accident and that, because I didn’t have a car and because I had small children at home, it would be difficult for me to attend classes in person. She made sure I did not have to settle with where I attended school nor compromise my plan, and worked with me to attend Dallas Baptist University, which offered online courses in my degree plan.

At first, I was a little timid about going to college. I really wanted succeed, and I wanted to obtain my degree before my oldest boys started college themselves. Sholanda encouraged me, told me to take a couple of classes at first to break the water, and then I was hooked.

During my first semester, a professor asked me if I considered later going for an MBA. I asked, what would an MBA do for me? He responded, “It’s not what an MBA will do for you, but what you with an MBA can do for others.” After that, I couldn’t take enough classes. I completed 45 hours in one year to complete my BA in Business Administration, and I even made the Dean’s list!

Eva FultonI was so ecstatic – I was a graduate!

The next time I visited with Sholanda, for employment counseling and my transition to the working world, I sat with her to look over my job options and resume. Seeing what I had completed in such a short time, she looked at me and said, “Eva, the VA would like to offer for you to get your MBA.”

My jaw dropped to the floor and I said, “You are kidding me right?”

She said, “Eva, for you to compete with your peers, you need your MBA.”

I cried. I couldn’t believe that someone had that much confidence and faith in me to help me and my family like this.

Just a year before, me and my family were on the verge of needing some serious community help. Then, Sholanda handed me a piece of paper to complete for a new laptop and printer. I did not know that VA could be this helpful. We literally survived on my getting paid to go to school and my VA disability pay.

Soon thereafter, I started an MBA program, and with Sholanda’s help, began looking for work. I sent out eight resumes. I received a call from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a federal contract specialist position. I interviewed with a daunting three-person panel in person who, as I remember correctly, were all Veterans too. I got the job. Later I transferred to General Services Administration as a contract specialist. I kept in touch with Sholanda throughout, made the Dean’s lists some more, and graduated with my MBA in Project Management.

The blessings did not stop, though.

I applied to the Presidential Management Fellow program offered through the Office of Personnel Management. That’s when I was hired on with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. I currently work in the Office of Public Housing where I manage a portfolio of housing authorities for low-income families.

As I see it, I may not be in uniform, but I am still serving my country. I am so very thankful for the blessings that came from my accident and for the heart that I found in my VR&E caseworker who had faith and saw more in me than I did. My hopes are to continue to pay it forward and help others.

Author

Eva Fulton

Comments

  1. Brandon Mac    

    This is a great story and I am happy for her success. I wish all VA VOC Rehab counselors went by the same book as hers did. I am a VA School Certifying Official who has had to recommend high value supplies for chapter 35 students to be successful at my institution. A majority of the classes are online, and we do not have a library or computer lab, so it would make sense that they need a laptop/computer to be able to work from home. The counselors in Long Beach sign off without any problems but the counselors in San Diego deny the request. Consistency is not a word in the Voc Rehab counselor world. You either hope you have a great counselor or file an IG complaint to get what you need to succeed.

  2. Tom Lord    

    Great for her and we know it has taken a lot of work. The VA should go off the same rules for there programs, like the Independent Living program. Even if you are, like me 100% Service Connected if you resided overseas, like in Germany where all your assignments have been, you WILL NOT BE ALLOWED THIS PROGRAM. Even if the program will allow you to try and regain the skills the SCD has seriously affected. It will be recommended to return to CONUS where you have no support to reapply for the program!. The best reason is being to “seriously disabled”, for the program which is what the IL in the VR&E is for. The VA will not even consider separate classes to regain the important skills which have been effected.
    So the VR&E program(s) where a great idea for everyone affected, but only after the VA RULE VA IS READ BY THE VA. Applicants must remember, they can’t be to disabled to apply and compete, success is critical. Congratulations Eva, on your success.

    1. Cynthia Sharp    

      I am a disabled veteran and voc rehab has paid for EVERYTHING, including a stipend to live on???

    2. Danny    

      Mr. Lord, I may be wrong, but believe that along with the 100% rating, another label is attached – unatrainable & unemployable. This may not be true in all cases, but I was labeled as such in relation to PTSD. At the time, I was only a couple of classes away from my Associates Degree; now I’m too old to worry about it.

  3. Cynthia Sharp    

    I absolutely LOVE MY VA VOC REHAB COUNSELOR, LAURIE LANGALIER, IN WHITE RIVER JUNCTION VERMONT. She is the absolute best, empathetic, knowledgeable person I am grateful to have met. I even moved from Vermont to Arkansas and I begged her to keep me, thankfully she did. Now I graduated with my Associates in Human Services and am transferring to University of Central Arkansas to attain my BA in Social Work. I applaud the benefits team who make this possible for veterans… I’m 47 and God willing will graduate again in less than two years… BRAVO VA VOC REHAB!

  4. Eva Fulton    

    For any Veterans, here are some thoughts that you might consider in working within your abilities. https://www.govloop.com/community/blog/dealing-veteran-disabilities/

  5. Sylvia Davis    

    Yes, Voc Rehab is blessing.. I have worked at Vamc for 14 yrs and tried to research grants to apply to schools instead of loans. So, yes that isgreat news.

  6. Charles Ade    

    Eva,

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful and touching story. Many of us are certainly proud of your accomplishments. You could have took the easy road and wallowed around for many more years yet you chose to be diligent to use your full potential, gifts and desires to help others.

    A big thanks to Sholanda Taylor inspiring encouragement to you to get going in the right direction. “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”, a quote from Amelia Earhart.

    Thank you for being a solid example to overcome and to never, never, never give up!

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