Eager to see the world and attend college, Army Veteran Andrea signed up to serve during her junior year of high school. After graduating and completing her AIT, Andrea served in Korea and the United States as an oral and maxillofacial surgery specialist and dental hygienist.

Throughout her military career, Andrea had struggled with frequent migraines and tried several treatments and medications. After an episode in 2017 left her unconscious and one half of her body numb, Andrea was rushed to a specialist and scheduled for surgery on her brain and spine.

Andrea was diagnosed with chiari malformation with an inoperable syrinx on her spine. She was medically retired at age 24 and still copes with the same spinal condition and pain to this day.

“When I tell you I really, really loved putting on that uniform, it was literally what kept me going,” Andrea said. “I think when I was found unfit for duty, I slipped so deeply into depression that I didn't even recognize myself.”

Andrea had previously been recognized by peers and leadership for her ability to recognize and help soldiers dealing with mental health crises over the course of her military career. After her diagnosis and retirement, she suddenly found herself on the other side of the issue and in need of support.

“It was rough. It was really, really rough because I wasn't sure how I could continue to use what I thought was a gift to help pull other people out of the darkness,” Andrea said. “This is another testimony for me to be able to pivot, but still use my story to pull other people out of their dark spaces, which was how Sowing Soothing Seeds came along.”

Andrea discovered PVA while searching for support groups after her retirement. After attending a few of PVA’s employment seminars, she received an email about a new program: PVA’s Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program.

Andrea used the eight-week self-employment program to develop her business, Sowing Soothing Seeds, which incorporated her lifelong love of nature, her beliefs about recovery, and her need for flexibility to accommodate for her condition’s fluctuating symptoms.

Through Sowing Soothing Seeds, customers receive simplified planting kits for medicinal and edible plants, along with affirmations and meditations to help customers connect with the natural world and their own mind and body during periods of recovery.

“Thinking about my own journey with gardening and the importance of me on my recovery, I wanted to include affirmations and meditations for people to do with their fruit and vegetables and create that connection in hopes of you being able to be proud and pull yourself out of that dark space,” Andrea said. “Because recovery sucks, there's no way around it. And nothing is going to speed it up: no amount of anger, no amount of impatience, no amount of frustration. It's not going to speed it up, it's only going to really make it worse for you.”

Launching any new business venture comes with tons of uncertainty and self-doubt, but Andrea says her experience with the Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program gave her like-minded peers to learn alongside.

“What I gained from this would be that, regardless of what we have going on physically, we are absolutely capable,” Andrea said. “I've met so many brilliant individuals. I'm not the only one with a story. And I'm not the only one that overcame obstacles. And so, it was really nice to see such a diverse group of people.”

At the end of the eight-week course, participants were able to pitch their business ideas to small-business leaders and investors. Andrea was awarded a $2,500 grant provided by Wells Fargo to launch her business. She plans to use the money to cover startup costs like registering her LLC and developing test kits.

She credits PVA with providing her with much-needed feedback and gentle guidance on her ideas throughout the program. She says [PVA Veterans Career Program Director] Charles McCaffrey asked the right questions to help her continuously streamline and adjust her business plan until she completed the program with her grant-worthy product idea.

“I just want to thank everyone, participants, everyone at PVA that put this together,” Andrea said. “I know this is only their second iteration of this, but I pray that they're able to keep doing it because it definitely is something that is well-needed for us.”

If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling in PVA’s Veterans Career Program, please reach out to VeteransCareerProgram@pva.org.