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