Published On: November 8, 2022

written by Will Baker, video producer and writer

Easterseals Crossroads Provides Military Veterans With More Than Just Assistance

“Thanks to Easterseals Crossroads, I realized I could turn my life around if I decided to work hard and go for it,” said Deanna, a US Army veteran with a disability. “They supported me, gave me a shoulder to lean on, and provided the first steps to get my life back on track.”

image of Deanna at filing cabinet

Deanna, a soft-spoken woman who brings a spark of joy to every room she’s in, first came to Easterseals Crossroads in October of 2021, arriving in Indianapolis from North Carolina with the clothes on her back. “I didn’t have any of my identification documents with me. I was struggling with mental illness. I didn’t even have a coat. But the VA hospital put me in contact with John Goings.”

Goings is the Director of Veteran Services at Easterseals Crossroads–he’s a big man, beard down to his chest, with an even bigger personality–you can’t help but smile when you talk to him. “When the VA told me about Deanna, I immediately got in touch with her,” he said. “When I picked her up in my truck, she was real quiet–I would have been too. Strange guy, strange city. But after a few minutes, she really warmed up and started making little jokes here and there–things she was seeing in the city. When we got to my office, we sat up there for probably two hours, doing paperwork, and just getting to know each other. I didn’t dig deep into her situation–I’m not a social worker–I just wanted to find out what she was experiencing so I could best help her.”

Deanna now works at the same VA hospital that first connected her with Goings and Easterseals Crossroads. She was wearing her blue hospital scrubs for our interview, an ID tag hanging from the Army lanyard around her neck. At first, she was quiet and reserved, much like when she first met John ten months prior. And while her story has a happy ending, it was a series of traumatic events that first caused her to need the assistance of Easterseals Crossroads.

“I was a specialist in the Army, and I ended up getting medically discharged after a freak accident involving a duty truck.” She was reading her story softly off of prepared notes. “I dislocated my shoulder and was given the option to come home, so I did.” She stopped to collect herself, “Last spring, another tragic event took place. I was expecting a child, and the pregnancy,” she pauses again, longer this time, taking deep breaths. “The pregnancy did not last. And after that, I was really mentally off my game. Depression set in.”

Deanna said she knew she needed to do something to get her life back on track. “I was at a place in my life where I understood that I had so much more life to live. But depression and mental illness are real, and if you don’t get the help you need and get things under control, you can spiral, and it’s a very dark and lonely road. But finding the resources and the people who were willing to help veterans made a big difference in my life.”

“Deanna has been a workhorse from the beginning,” Goings said with his big, signature smile. “She was determined to get things done, and she did a lot of the legwork involved in getting her birth certificate. It’s not an easy process, and it was made more difficult because she was born in Germany. As she worked to do that, we gave her job leads.”

Not only did Goings and the Easterseals Crossroads team help Deanna with job leads, they also made sure she had the clothing necessary to survive an Indiana winter. “I’m from North Carolina,” Deanna said, “and I had never seen snow last for more than a day or two!”

The team put together a custom plan for Deanna. “We figured out what steps I needed to follow to get back on track; honestly, the Easterseals Crossroads resources seemed unlimited. Anything I asked for, they were able to get for me, or put me in touch with the right person. They reminded me that I had skills from the Army and that I could apply those skills in a better career. I had inventory in my background, and I wanted to find a career in which I could do what I love and that I’m already pretty good at. So we zeroed in and targeted those opportunities.”

Deanna quickly found work in the VA’s compensated work therapy program. “That was the start of getting her into her career as an inventory specialist at the VA, which is where she wanted to be,” said Goings. “By working at the VA, she can finish out her federal time and buy back the time she served in the military, and earn her federal retirement.”

“I am finally in a place where I have full-time employment,” said Deanna. “I’ve got transportation; I am about to sign a lease and move into a comfortable place close to work–all the things I didn’t think I would have when I started this journey last year. I want to continue to do a great job and see where my career takes me in the next few years. The encouragement and the support that I received from Easterseals Crossroads–I hadn’t felt that kind of support since leaving my parents’ house after high school. And for me to be a disabled veteran, I know that so many of us are forgotten about or just caught up in the system.”

Goings said Easterseals Crossroads’ hands-on approach is what sets the agency apart from other programs, “we meet veterans where they are,” he explained. “We meet them on the streets. We meet them in parking lots because they may be living in a car. Our speed of service is our signature. We can provide services within a day–within a few minutes if it’s an emergency.”

Easterseals Crossroads helps 130 veterans a year as part of its grant program, with a 70% employment placement rate. “We actually engage hundreds more through events in various counties,” said Goings. “We go into the prisons; we go into the county jails; we try to assist as many as we can wherever they are.”

Goings said it’s easy for him to relate to what these men and women are going through, “I’ve been in some pretty awful positions myself. I lived in a ’74 Blazer at a truck stop for a while. In those situations, you learn how to adapt, just like you did in the military. The people we serve want to hear straight talk from me, directly, truthfully. I’m here to coach, but by creating a shared connection, I’m able to help our veterans redefine their abilities in new and modern ways by looking at what they did in the past with their jobs in the military and putting it to use in a job in the future.”

Goings said his staff works on the A-B-C principle – A job, a Better job, and a Career. “We’ve had everything from chefs to geospatial engineers come through. We move clients past that boring hourly job, and into the career they were looking for all along.”

As for Deanna, her experience with Goings and his staff was far more than she could have imagined. “A lot of different service providers make you do everything by yourself, but at Easterseals Crossroads, we did this together. They pushed me to reach my goals, and every accomplishment builds you back up.”

“With Deanna, I always said we spoke the same language,” Goings said. “I was able to connect with her on that level, aside from our military background. She still calls or texts me with random things, just to let me know she’s doing okay, or if she’s had a bad day. It’s good for her to know I’m here for her.”

“They treat me like family,” Deanna said. “There’s a sense of camaraderie, and a support system. I want my brothers and sisters in arms to know that it’s okay to ask for help, and that sometimes when you come home, it’s not the same home you left. But at Easterseals Crossroads, you can find a new family, and make the new home you need. The staff makes sure we know we’re appreciated for our service. They’re there for us–they have our six.”

As the interview was wrapping up, Deanna handed me her phone to take a picture of her in front of the American and POW flags. She said she wanted a nice, professionally lit photo for her profile picture. As we chatted, she was now fully at ease, her notes abandoned, and her personality was shining through. I asked her what she would say to anyone who was in a similar position to where she had been. “I’d say to them, if you’re having a hard time like I’ve had a hard time, and you’re struggling to find your balance and find support, I’d say reach out to Easterseals Crossroads. If you’re at their door, help is one step away.”