Tracey Cooper-Harris is no stranger to adversity. She joined the U.S. Army at age 17, serving from 1991-2003 as an Animal Care Sergeant in Operation Enduring Freedom & Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After returning home, she obtained a B.S. in Kinesiology from Cal State Northridge. That same year, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
She began working for the VA, helping veterans overcome difficult issues after service. Looking to bring in more resources, she reached out to PVA’s Veterans Career Program (formerly PAVE). Not only did she learn the ways that the program could help the veterans she was working with, she discovered she was eligible for PVA membership and joined the California chapter.
Wanting to fulfill her dream of being a Clemson graduate, Tracey began working on her Master’s in public administration – but she didn’t realize the challenges ahead.
“With MS, I have issues with the heat. The words start slurring and my balance is off,” Tracey says.
“I also have to be careful with stress.”
Tracey didn’t realize the ways stress could affect her until her father got sick. She was on the West Coast working and doing her Master’s online, and her father was on the East Coast. Tracey was going back and forth to care for him and see her family, and it was hard on her. She had a relapse. They changed her medication, and she didn’t react well. Her father passed. She lost her job.
Then she failed four courses, back-to-back.
“I went through a downward spiral. It was just one thing after the other,” Tracey recalls.
With the support of her wife and fellow veterans, and drawing on her determination, Tracey approached her dean and got back on track. The dean told her she could continue her school while on academic probation, but she would have to make “A’s in all her classes. Tracey was undeterred.
“I have been waiting on [a Clemson degree] since I first stepped foot on that campus in 1999, coming from Korea,” she says.
When she finally finished with school, she reached out to PVA for employment help.
“The Veterans Career Program has been great. My counselor Taylor Scott helped me find online certifications, helped me with both my federal and civilian resumes, got my Schedule A letter, sent me jobs, and made sure I was doing everything I needed to do,” says Tracey.
Tracey really appreciated the specialized service. “She would send me job leads specifically tailored for me. She sent me things that fit my goals.”
Tracey also took advantage of Veterans Career Live sessions, which helped keep her motivated. She liked that they were small, which helped with networking, and they are recorded, so she never had to worry about missing anything.
A friend in the veterans community who knew Tracey was looking for a job sent her a lead – and with her resume polished and ready, Tracey applied. She recently began working for a California Congresswoman as a military and veterans liaison, which she loves.
“PVA’s Veterans Career Program is a really good way for veterans who have spinal cord injury and disease to know that if you want to work, or volunteer, or stay active in the community, this is a way to do it. You have resources out there available to you.”