For many military families, a PCS to Washington, DC is an inevitable stop in a service member’s career, and from some perspectives, viewed as a necessary evil. For me, raised in DC’s military suburbs, it would have been returning home. And as a career civil servant, it represented a virtual mecca of job opportunities compared to alternatives like Fort Rucker, AL or Fort Bliss, TX.
But when my active-duty husband, an E-8 in the US Army, received a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in Spring of 2013, a PCS to anywhere, much less the Nation’s Capital, seemed unlikely. MS is considered a Service Connected disability, so the only trip the Army had planned for my husband was the long and winding (read: a year and four months counting) road of a medical board and an official status of “unfit for continued military service.”
I’m not going to lie, the diagnosis and its aftermath were hard. Imagine being told you have an incurable neurological condition, and are being removed from your position, becoming non-deployable persona non gratis in your unit. Then you hear, “Thank you very much, but after 22 years we no longer require your service,” all in just a few months time.
We had a rough year, but after being transferred to Fort Campbell’s Warrior in Transition Battalion (WTB), things started looking up. My husband started getting the medical treatment he needed and receiving the compassion he deserved. We started looking forward to the reality of transition from military life, with the primary wrinkle being that we weren’t sure if my husband would be able to work, or what type of work he might be able to do.
I am a planner by nature and by trade. Since childhood, in somewhat paranoid fashion, I’ve developed plans and backup plans for unforeseeable scenarios that, more often than not, never came to pass. But this time, my fastidious obsession with maintaining my own professional career, along with my husband’s, had panned out. I was ready and able to step up and support our family, even in the unexpected scenario where he might not be able to work.
About a year into the medical board, I started applying to positions, since everyone at the WTB insisted that the medical board would be completed, “any day now.” To my surprise, and in record time for a government hiring action, I was offered a position for the first job I ever seriously applied for. Great! But, now we were in the unfortunate position of me having to relocate to a position in DC, while my husband was still stuck in the quagmire of the VA disability ratings process. We didn’t want to be separated, but who knew if his ratings would come in tomorrow, or if I’d have another opportunity like this one. So I accepted the job, but delayed my start date; meanwhile, he started making pesky inquiries about his ratings status.
And then, by a benevolent force that I never knew existed within the DoD, the fine staff of Fort Campbell’s Warrior in Transition Battalion worked out a miraculous transfer for my husband to Fort Belvoir’s Warrior in Transition Battalion to “accompany me” to my new duty station. And they turned the paperwork around in about two weeks! For me, that is concrete proof the Army really does care about transitioning Soldiers and families.
So here we are in NOVA, living the dream; it’s just a dream lived in a different way than the one most military families experience. Yes, it’s a dream that involves living in a home half the size for double the price, but one with a life lived at the center of it all, in a place littered with symbols of the freedom my husband has fought for over the last two decades.
My new job isn’t actually in the Pentagon, but work requires visiting occasionally. I went last week and stood in the hallowed halls (and drank a tall iced caramel macchiato at the Starbucks), and thought about our military journey. My husband’s career didn’t end the way we thought it would, but our path still brought us here, to the center of the military world. That’s the thing about transition…you don’t know where it will lead you, but you will find your way, and there’s a whole world out there to discover.
Posted by Laura Eileen Baie Yates, National Military Association Volunteer, Fort Belvoir, VA