Maria has always wanted to serve.
When she was in high school in the early 1970s, she wrote a letter to West Point to request an application. They told her they didn’t accept female applicants.
Women were also not yet allowed to participate in ROTC. Undeterred, she joined the Women’s Army Corps.
“I was interested in serving and it was the Vietnam era. It was toward the end of the Vietnam era and they were drafting men and I thought, ‘Well, I could volunteer and help out in some way.’ I was hoping.”
Through the WAC program, Maria was commissioned the day she graduated from a small, Catholic all-girl’s college in New Orleans – the first ever commissioned at that school.
Maria started her career as one of the first two women to be trained in aerial surveillance. She went on to teach English to non-English-speaking soldiers at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. She saw many soldiers returning from Vietnam with wives that don’t speak English, and started a class for them, too.
“They needed to have the opportunity to learn English to acclimate a little more,” Maria said. “They seemed kind of helpless, some of them and, and I just wanted them to be able to speak English and get around.”
While still in the Army, Maria began to feel numbness in her face and tingling in her feet. One morning, she woke up unable to move her leg. Her doctors told her it was an injury from exercise.
After pushing repeatedly for more tests, an MRI showed lesions on her spinal cord. She was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and medically discharged.
After separating from the service, Maria studied law the University of San Diego. She became a career federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. and then served on the juvenile court bench.
In 2003, Maria experienced an acute MS attack and ended up in a VA hospital. During her stay, a man rolled his wheelchair into her room and said, “I’m from Paralyzed Veterans of America and I am going to help you.”
“That’s when I started needing a wheelchair, and I needed home modifications. I needed, you know, a lot,” Maria says. “And he told me about all that and said they would help me apply for it. And they did.”
Grateful for PVA’s assistance, Maria hopes to pay it forward by volunteering and advocating for her fellow Veterans.
“I think what they do with the National Service Officers is amazing,” Maria says. “They need people to go to the capital or communicate with the capital about laws that would be beneficial to disabled people – particularly to PVA people, but to all disabled people. That’s definitely something I want to get involved with.”