Nick Lopez retired from the Army this past January, and found himself without a job for the first time since he was 17. Nick had always enjoyed worked hands-on with technology for most of his life, back to when he took freelance IT jobs in high school, so it made sense for him to enter a technical field during his military service. As a member of the Signal Corps, he set up and repaired radio arrays and networks in the field.
But after coming home after 14 years of service, he didn’t have much luck finding a job. Nick was looking hard for work, but he was still struggling, in addition to dealing with the effects of PTSD from his experiences in the Army. Nick and his wife had a lot of responsibility, with three kids of their own, plus three foster children that they were taking care of. It had gotten to the point where he was drawing from his GI Bill stipend just to keep him afloat. His luck changed when he got a call from Sharp Decisions, a technology consulting company that had recently launched a training program specifically for military veterans.
Nick was skeptical at first about the V.E.T.S program. He knew there were so-called free programs for vets out there that just took money from the GI Bill and didn’t deliver the job training they’d promised. But V.E.T.S. sounded different. He went in for an interview and was impressed with the program. He was accepted into the program and within two months he was hired by Shared Decisions, started the training, and he was getting paid for his effort.
“I didn’t really have a job and just went to school from 2010 through 2012,” Lopez said. “It was really frustrating not getting some of these jobs because I knew I was qualified. Sharp Decisions saved my behind a little bit.”
Nick’s background trouble shooting the Signal Corps gave him a solid grasp on the courses in Quality Assurance software testing. What was different was that for the first time he was learning about higher level planning of the testing process. Previously he’d always followed a pre-determined plan, now he was learning what it took to create his own plan.
But getting to Sharp Decisions almost never happened for Lopez. During his third tour of duty, in Iraq from 2008-2009, Lopez was assigned to haul fuel. His job was to find fuel, purify it and then make it ready for use in vehicles and airplanes. He often found himself in the middle of a convoy under fire with fuel tanks on his truck.
But one specific moment changed him. His base camp faced a rocket attack from insurgents masquerading as farmers. They put mortars in the dirt, put up a block of ice and a round on top and left. Three hours later, when the ice melted and they were long gone, the rocket shot into the camp.
During this attack, the rockets hit the living quarters, with one rocket blowing up 50 meters from his head. No one was seriously injured, but Lopez was taken to a hospital for a potential concussion. Even with no permanent damage, the injury left him with what Lopez describes as a mild case of PTSD.
“I had a really big ringing noise in my head so they did tests,” Lopez said. “I get a lot of headaches now and take these pills to help with that. I didn’t want to claim anything from the VA because I didn’t feel like it was affecting me. It was worse at the beginning because I could never be in movie theaters and I always had to sit with my back to the wall to keep a look out.
“I used to be really anxious in the dark and thought I was seeing shapes because it was really dark where I was and you always had to be careful of people sneaking up on you,” Lopez said. “I sleep fine now, but it still affects me a little bit. Like sometimes I can’t be with a really large group because I get really panicky and loud noises still spook me a little bit too.”
But now that Nick works for the V.E.T.S. Program, he says he couldn’t see himself anywhere else and recognizes how much Sharp Decisions really cares about the program – whenever there was a need for upgrades to laptops, the server, or software, Sharp Decisions took care of it, and then the vets put them to good use. He was very happy to see they were as invested in program as the vets were. Their level of commitment made a strong impression on him.
Nick can’t speak highly enough about the value of military vets. “They’re smart people with qualities many others don’t have. Vets have a sense to complete a mission, while I see other people doing just enough to finish job. We don’t care if someone else gets recognition for completing a mission, we think, so long as a mission gets done that’s all that matters.”
Nick tells a story to illustrate the difference with vets. At EmblemHealth, where he was deployed, an important document was used that was hand written. The company wanted it digitized, but after working on it for a year, little progress had been made. Nick was given the assignment, and within less than 2 months, Nick was able to update the document and create a whole new automated system. Nick’s work enabled the company to cut it’s time working on this system by half. This was a huge time saving tool.
Sharp Decisions introduced Nick to not only an entirely new industry, but also a new path in life. “I don’t know what I’d be doing without the V.E.T.S. program,” he says. “I didn’t have a career, but now I’m in a field that I’m comfortable in. My life has changed, and I don’t think I get here without Sharp Decision.”
Nick says, “I have a job and I know my family is taken care of, and that does a lot to reduce my other cares.”
Sharp Decisions’ V.E.T.S Program has helped remove uncertainty about Nick’s future.