The Next Steps

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Today was my meeting with my case manager at Texas Workforce Solutions – Vocational Rehabilitative Services and I think it went well.

One of the first concerns that Anthony, my case manager, has is my weight, which is understandable. They want me to be well, and true wellness lies in ditching the weight. That will help the high blood pressure, the diabetes, even help alleviate the situation that I’ve gotten myself into with my back problems.

When he went through my paperwork, the reports that my doctors and therapist have sent in to TWS-VRS covered everything but my back problems, so with a phone call we got my latest MRI results and the diagnostic summary of them faxed over and added to my file. While we were waiting, Anthony stepped out to get a colleague who has more experience dealing with back injuries. The colleague, Eric, echoed Anthony’s assessment that losing the weight would help, but he stressed that getting active and doing what physical therapy wants me to do is more important in the short term – and sticking with that in the long term will likewise be important to prevent my back from becoming a degenerative situation. If that occurs, there’s really not that much that can be done to keep me mobile. I explained that expenses were what was keeping me out of physical therapy but I promised both Eric and Anthony that I would look into going long enough to get some home exercises to help me with my case. So that’s step one.

I also mentioned that my insurance has a program that provides free gym memberships at multiple locations around the city, so I promised that I would look into that as well. There’s step two, although that one has a few prerequisites that I need to look into first – namely the purchase of some gym clothes and actual workout footwear. In the meantime I’ll be getting back to the daily walks around the complex, which I can do in jeans and Crocs.

Then we got to the meat of the meeting, which was to discuss what I want to do when returning to work. I mentioned that my back won’t let me do massage therapy anymore, and between being out of the business for a decade and my back working as a pharmacy technician is pretty out of the question, so I’d like to do something that would allow me to sit some of the time, and I’d decided on architectural & engineering computer aided design. The money’s there, the jobs are projected to be there, and while the job would have me sitting most of the time, there would be occasions where I’d be able to get up and stretch on top of the exercise that I’ll be doing anyway. I fired off some of the stats that I got from the Occupational Outlook Handbook online, and he commended me for doing my research before coming in. So step three is going to be me going back to school for my associate’s degree.

I left with some homework – get in touch with physical therapy and do what they tell me for my back, start walking in an effort to begin losing the weight, and submit my FAFSA for the degree program. The goal is for me to start in the spring, which really means mid-January. So I have a little less than two months for financial aid to do its thing before classes start. The process is underway, however – the FAFSA was submitted earlier this afternoon.

I asked a point blank question of Anthony just before I left – how much of this am I going to have to pay for out of pocket? His response surprised me.

“Zero.” Tuition, books, and supplies are all going to be covered for this program.

So I’m one step closer to getting back to work. There’s still a lot of time left ahead of me, but it looks like I’m well and truly on the road, finally. We’ll see what happens in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m nervous, but cautiously excited and optimistic about this new future that I’m planning for myself.

Faster Than Expected

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Earlier this week I got a call from Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services. All the requested medical records had come in, and I had been officially approved to receive their services. I was expecting that to take three months, not the month that it actually took.

So now I have an appointment on the 22nd of November to determine what my plan of attack is going to be. I really want to go back to school, but I don’t know if TWS-VRS will cover the expenses. However, my case manager told me of a situation where they not only paid for someone’s education, but their living expenses while at school since their chosen field of study required them to move to another town to attend classes. This gives me hope.

I would prefer not to move, so I’ve been looking at degree programs at Austin Community College-Northridge, which is literally down the road from my apartment. They offer one program that interests me, Architectural and Engineering Computer Aided Design. It’s an associate’s degree as opposed to a vocational certificate, but it looks like the typical entry-level positions require only an associate’s degree, and the pay is solid, plus it’s mostly desk work, which will be good for my back. The outlook isn’t splendid, as they expect a 3% reduction in available jobs between 2014 and 2024, mostly due to more efficient work processes due in large part to improved software, so I’m a little apprehensive of getting a degree and then floundering trying to find a job locally. But the market here in Texas is better than most of the rest of the country, and the pay scale is slightly higher than the national average, although it’s the oil industry in Houston and Dallas that’s skewing those numbers. I called the college and requested someone to call me back with more information. I plan on following that up with an email by the middle of next week if I haven’t heard anything, followed eventually with an actual visit to campus to try and get some time with one of the advisers to get some more information about the career and the program.

I did something similar to this at one point in time – I was a well planner for a small engineering firm that was eventually folded into Halliburton. I enjoyed the work, but the atmosphere was very toxic to me and I went on short-term disability to learn how to cope with the situation. By the time I made it back, the merger had happened, and my position had been considered superfluous and so I was laid off.

I’m working on how to deal with toxic environments in therapy, so hopefully that will coincide with the end of this degree program, if it can come to fruition. Keep your fingers crossed that my questions are answered to my satisfaction and this works out to be something that I can see myself doing for the rest of my life.

One more step toward the goal …