In search of an opportunity to make a difference, David (last name withheld) joined the U.S. Air Force fresh out of high school in 1983. “This was my first real job besides working at a local restaurant as a busboy, while growing in Temple City, CA. I saw joining the military as a chance to serve my country and to help keep people safe.”
After enlisting, David attended basic training at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, TX and graduated as an Airman Basic (E-1). Then after completing 12 weeks of specialized training, he joined the 88th Strategic Air Command Missile Squadron as a Security Specialist. “It was a complete culture shock; I transitioned from a civilian with choices to a service member with a strict regimen and structure. They say you start as a rainbow, then become a green bean (once uniforms are issued) and finally get a haircut and now you are officially a canned green bean.”
David earned promotions throughout his service; from an Airman Basic (E-1), to Airman (E-2) and then Airman 1st Class (E-3). He served his remaining time at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming during the Cold War, providing security services and surveillance to Minuteman-3s nuclear warheads that were ready to launch in case of conflict.
In 1985, David was discharged honorably due to lack of war. “The transition back into civilian life was much easier than my development into an Airman. After being stationed on a remote base for so long, I enjoyed having more freedom. I also carried with me the discipline, time management and organizational skills learned from my time in the military.”
Despite his ease in transitioning to civilian life, David faced other challenges; he later received a dual diagnosis of both ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and Anxiety Disorder from the Veterans Administration (VA) in 2003. Nearly 40 million Americans (18%) experience Anxiety Disorder; ADHD affects around 4% of American adults. Both disorders cause lack of concentration and racing thoughts, which can impair everyday life.
“Before joining the service, I had never received any treatment for these conditions. Despite having these undiagnosed disabilities, I persevered and graduated from Tech school with a score of 98% when many of the course instructors doubted my ability to graduate.”
“While looking for civilian work, I continued to struggle with my communication skills. When I could not manage my anxiety, this would lead to outbursts and growing frustration with coworkers and employers. I was eventually able to use the tools and resources acquired in the military to cover up my disabilities and find a variety of jobs, including work at a grocery chain, acting and selling real estate.”
After receiving foot surgery in 2017, David had an accident and obtained mobility-related disabilities. While looking for work that would be a good fit and that would accommodate his disabilities, David was referred by his VA Representative at the Jewish Vocational Services to PRIDE Industries in Spring 2018. After interviewing, he was hired as a Service Order Dispatcher at PRIDE’s LAAFB contract site in May 2018.
“This job is perfect for me,” said David. “I like the challenges that come with solving different work orders at the customer service desk. Working at LAAFB, I interact with a wide variety of customers – from civilians all the way up to the Secretary of the Air Force.”
“The comradery at PRIDE is strong; my team treats each other like family and are very accommodating, especially with allowing supports for my disabilities. Job Coach Brandon Whatley and Araceli Gutierrez helped me transition to my new role and taught me other skills to help me succeed at my job.”
“It’s different, but a pleasant and familiar experience being back on a military base, especially now that I am receiving treatment for my ADHD and Anxiety; I understand all the protocols and acronyms. It’s exciting to have a career with room for advancement and new possibilities where I do not need to hide my disabilities.”
“If there were one piece of advice I could give to today’s transitioning veterans, it would be to seek out help from veteran support groups and services. The benefits provided today are far better than those offered at my time of discharge; however, it saddens me to know that many veterans do not receive enough training on how to maximize their benefits; seeking adequate treatment can be life-changing.”