Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Operation PAVE is much more than an employment program for veterans with disabilities.
Kate Callahan serves as secretary for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Texas Chapter, is a thrower for the U.S. Paralympic national team and volunteers for other nonprofit organizations. Despite all this, she believed there was still something missing from her life.
Callahan, who became paralyzed from the waist down during a surgery to reduce fluid on her brain after tendons in her back separated from her spine, wanted to find a career that would utilize her experiences and education, whilealso enabling her to help other members of the military.
“It did not seem like that is all I was supposed to do with my life after my injury. I wanted to use my master’s degree in recreation therapy to help people. I wasn’t feeling like I was a productive member of society when I was not working,” says Callahan, who held numerous roles during her time in the U.S. Air Force, including combat medic, aerospace physiologist and flight nurse. “I desired the camaraderie that I missed so much from the military, so I wanted to work with the military population.”
That’s where PVA’s Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment), comes into play.
Embark on Adventure
As veterans with spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D) return to civilian life, many find themselves wanting to embark on their next adventure — a job that will give them professional and personal fulfillment. However, navigating the job market may look much different than it did before their time of service.
Operation PAVE ensures these veterans not only find employment, but have the continued support to be successful throughout their entire career. The program offered by PVA in every Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spinal-cord injury center is unique in that it provides holistic, ongoing and integrated support to U.S. veterans, transitioning service members, military spouses and military caregivers.
Master’s level, certified vocational counselors and trained employment support analysts are available to assist clients in overcoming their individual set of barriers to employment.
Veteran Eric Lorence secured a job at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veterans Employment). He now works as the sports director at Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Minnesota Chapter.
“There is no shortage of veteran employment programs across the nation, many of which are phenomenal in providing services for our disabled veterans. Often, clients come to us and are very pleased to discover a very distinct difference in our program’s holistic, ongoing and integrated support model,” says Operation PAVE interim director Shelly Stewart. “For example, one of the most unique characteristics of the PAVE program is our ‘Partner for Life’ commitment. Our counselors provide ongoing post-placement support to veterans and employers to ensure that our clients not only find employment, but have the tools and resources to maintain it. As their personal and professional needs and goals change, clients appreciate that our counselors and analysts are there for them every step of the way.”
More to Life
Callahan is a prime example of the success PAVE has had and now works as the only recreation therapist at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
PAVE helped Callahan identify her career passions and how to match those with her leadership skills and experiences with the Paralympics and mental health field. Callahan plans to expand the recreational therapy program at Brooke Army Medical Center and hopes to one day become the program’s director.
Through her current position at the center, Callahan has found new levels of personal satisfaction and success. She encourages other veterans to get involved with PAVE and experience the rewards of rejoining the workforce firsthand.
“Your life isn’t over just because of an injury. You can be a productive member of society and have goals and aspirations in the workplace just as you did before,” Callahan says. “Do not be satisfied with just receiving a check from the government. There is more to life than just sitting on the couch and receiving a check each month. Job satisfaction and working with peers (have) great challenges and benefits that can be enjoyed from a wheelchair or walking!”
Goals in Motion
Another veteran who has benefited from the program is James Marron, who started his military career with the Navy in 2000.
It included two stints in Iraq, during which he was cited for his heroic achievement for saving the lives of two Marines. During his service, Marron sustained injuries to his back and nerves, for which he receives chiropractic services from the nonprofit organization The Patriot Project. These constant aches and pains were one reason he struggled with returning to work, but he wanted to make a change.
“Upon returning, I wanted to change my life and knew that there were people that could help at the VA. My occupational therapist, Vivian, told me about Joan (Haskins, an Operation PAVE counselor) and how she worked for a nonprofit that helped with employment opportunities,” Marron says. “If I learned anything in business school, it was how important networking is.”
After completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Marron knew he wanted a career that allowed him to help others. Through PAVE he received counseling on defining career goals, job searching, résumé, cover letter critiquing and how to use LinkedIn.
Not only was he provided this professional advice, but also moral support. Whenever he felt like giving up, Marron knew he could find the strength he needed to keep going from the team at PAVE.
“Joan was really good at being personable and working with me. She really cares about what she does versus just doing it, “ says Marron. “(She) and her team also gave me encouragement when I wanted to just quit.”
Through the program, Marron found full-time employment as a Quality Assurance Specialist for QTC Medical, a Lockheed Martin Company, which contracts with the VA. He still keeps in touch with his PAVE counselor to check in and let her know of any job openings that other veterans may be interested in.
“The position that I have now is working for the VA, expediting veterans’ claims. I love talking to vets from all eras and helping them with the process,” Marron says. “I feel good about what I do and offer the best service possible not only because it’s my job, but also because I have a profound respect for what these brave men and women went through. They offered their lives as a sacrifice for our way of life.”
Evolve & Expand
PAVE currently serves 680 people across the country and has placed more than 350 clients since July 2014, an increase of 40% over the previous year.
Since the program’s inception in 2007, PAVE has served more than 2,500 veterans and military families. With all this growth, there are plans to expand PAVE in the future, particularly through partnerships with higher education institutions and military establishments.
“As PAVE continues to evolve and expand, we will strive to distend our visibility and nationwide outreach within the veteran community through increased collaboration and partnerships,” Stewart says. “We want to broaden our footprint by providing outreach and early engagement to veterans, transitioning service members and military caregivers in communities near colleges, universities and military installations across the country.”
For more information on Operation Pave contact a PVA National Service Officer from the roster on page 48 or visit operationpave.org.