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PAVEing a Path

Reprinted from PN October 2017

For 10 years, PVA's PAVE program has been providing a way for veterans with disabilities and their families to find success in their careers and life.

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As National Disability Employment Awareness Month is celebrated in October, Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) award-winning Paving Access for Veterans Employment (PAVE) program is also making an observance. It’s been a decade since PAVE first started helping veterans, caregivers and spouses. More than a project to help people get “a job,” PAVE helps them find meaningful careers. The program dispels the myths, challenges stereotypes and creates opportunities for military families to rebuild their lives after a setback. 

PAVE’s success is demonstrated in the impact on the lives of the veterans and families it serves. The program may be 10 years old this year, but one thing that never grows old is the success stories of people like veteran Edgar Machado, his wife, Laura, and their two young children, Julius and Nyema.

“I Got Stuck”

After serving eight years in the Marine Corps with deployments to Iraq and Japan, Edgar wanted to go into law enforcement, but a spinal-cord injury not only forced him to change those plans and turned his life upside down, it had a drastic effect on his wife.

“When I saw Edgar lying in that hospital injured, it was heartbreaking,” Laura says. “He was the core to our family and the foundation. Seeing him there helpless was devastating. There was nothing I could do to fix this. I couldn’t change anything and I couldn’t help him. That was where I got stuck.”

Just like they do for other families in this situation, things seemed bleak for the Machados. However, a bedside visit with Edgar and Laura from PAVE counselor Susan Sprayberry planted the seeds about moving forward and putting their lives back together. Sprayberry was part of Edgar’s rehabilitation care team at the Department of Veterans of Affairs (VA) hospital where he was being treated. She talked to Edgar and Laura about what jobs they might be interested in and about Edgar possibly going back to school.Once they were ready, Sprayberry did much of the legwork to help Edgar apply to college so he could pursue a degree in information technology. She even went with him to campus to help get him registered for classes, which he started this fall. Meanwhile, Sprayberry encouraged Laura to pursue her own passion — photography. She also helped set Laura up for entrepreneurial marketing courses. Laura hadn’t picked up a camera since Edgar’s accident and didn’t think she could do it.

“I felt as if getting back to my career would not be possible,” Laura says. “Working with Susan has assured me that I have not lost a part of myself.”


Laura is now working as a professional photographer (linamphotography.com). Sprayberry still provides much needed support and encouragement to help Laura balance her work’s growing clientele with her responsibilities as a mother, caregiver and spouse. 

“Susan was there to see what I couldn’t see outside my box,” Laura says. “Her attitude of ‘yes, you can’ probably pushed me the most. I didn’t feel stuck. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and that yes, I have all this going on around me, but yes I still can!”

A Closer Family

Edgar and Laura’s story isn’t only a good example of PAVE’s success, but it shows how the challenges of managing a new injury or medical diagnosis, layered with the barriers to gainful employment for veterans with disabilities and their families, can be daunting. PAVE isn’t alone in offering help. There’s no shortage of vocational programs, including those at the federal and state levels. There are also private for-profit and nonprofit organizations that provide assistance. However, it can be difficult for someone in this type of position to know where to turn for help. Sprayberry’s outreach to Edgar and Laura is something that helps set PAVE apart from other programs. That effort helped open the couple’s eyes to what could be done for them.

“I didn’t know what the extent of the help and resources were out there for me, until I found PAVE,” Laura says.

The extent of that help isn’t only centered on going to school or finding a job either. PAVE calls itself a “Partner for Life,” and while Edgar and Laura benefited in a traditional sense from the program, they also found it provided them with so much more. 

“PAVE has helped us, not only with education and careers but with our family life,” Edgar says. “Because Laura now goes out to work, I spend more time with my kids than I ever did. We are so much closer as a family.” 

A Way To Get Back To Work

Although Edgar hasn’t entered the workforce just yet, his prospects after finishing his degree look bright. The recent emphasis on veterans’ issues, has helped improve employment numbers among that group. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from this past July show veterans unemployment at 3.5%. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2001. Data like that and people like Edgar and Laura are what help drive PAVE to remain proactive. The program continually develops, expands and refines its services. PAVE looks to provide these men and women, husbands, wives and caregivers with the same type of empowerment Laura feels.

“There is a way to get back to doing what you did post-injury. The PAVE counselors understand our life change more than anyone else, and they have the tools to get resources to open doors for us caregivers,” Laura says. “Susan, our counselor, has become part of our family.”

For more information, visit operationpave.org.

Shelly D. Stewart is PVA’s PAVE program director. 

 

 

 

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