In this guest post, Air Force Veteran Lorrie Lollar-Ray describes how she overcame obstacles to find great meaning in helping other Veterans as a VA employee.
I came to work at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center under a Schedule A appointment (for people with certain disabilities) while I was in therapy myself for service-connected injuries. I was in mental health care and started with a sailing program to assist me with the isolation I had created in my life.
Now my life includes a job! This job is fulfilling and personally satisfying. I assist Veterans who could very well be me. After the Air Force, I studied law in an effort to assist those at-risk or underprivileged. In my current capacity, I assist people with their barriers to employment. I love what I contribute to Veterans’ lives and I enjoy having meaningful work that allows me to communicate with each person individually to determine and overcome individual problems.
“I love what I contribute to Veterans’ lives.”
I was selected as the EEOC Special Emphasis Program Manager for people with disabilities. In this capacity, I took note of obstacles to services and potential hazards around the facility for persons living with disabilities. I am also responsible for educating others on inclusion.
One Veteran I was able to assist is a service-connected Air Force Veteran who was active in peacekeeping missions. He is now employed. He has a degree and more than 10 years of experience in IT security. His barrier to employment was that he did not have citizenship status and his specialty required it to do the job. Together with the Veteran, we were able to locate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement paperwork needed and the Veteran exception to prevent the significant monetary fees associated with naturalization.
The Veteran was very wary about starting this process since naturalization is a hot topic. He moved forward though, studying for the citizenship test while he worked as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Finally, the exam was scheduled. The Veteran called me and explained the interview was over and it went well, he was just waiting on the letter.
Appealed denial and won
Two weeks later a denial letter arrived citing a denial based on residency requirements, he needed to have a physical presence in the U.S. for three years. We reviewed his passports and after we added up the days, he had in fact been in the country the appropriate amount of time. We worked together to file an appeal.
Two weeks after the appeal, I attended the naturalization ceremony with the Veteran and his family. The smiles on their faces were priceless and I was filled with joy.
“Sailing program assisted me with the isolation I had created in my life.”
Working in employment has not been without its challenges, but I feel more balanced and valued in life. The mission, Vision, and Values of VA align with me personally because…ICARE.
Lorrie Lollar-Ray is a vocational rehab counselor at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.
Photos by: James Arrowood