Center of Innovation on Disability & Rehab Research-GNV
The VEC Welcomes a Treasure
Adrienne Fennell (Treasure), member of the CINDRR Veteran Engagement Council (VEC) served in the United States Army during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as base support at Fort Irwin in California and then served in the National Guard. Ms. Fennell’s father was a Vietnam Veteran who raised her and her siblings as if they were soldiers. For her, there was no difference between being a military child and being a soldier, so going into the military was a natural career choice. However, it was a 10-year transition for Ms. Fennell to separate from a military mindset and effectively integrate herself into the civilian world. She describes the process as culture shock; she had difficulty transitioning her very structured life because the structure, order, and hierarchy that she’d become accustomed to seemed completely missing in the civilian world. Since those components were her reality of the moment, a career in law enforcement was Ms. Fennell’s first civilian career choice because "nothing else made sense."
Because of the challenges of her own transition experiences, Ms. Fennell later became a trainer for the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and certified by the Department of Labor’s Employment Workshop (DOLEW) that assists Veterans transitioning from the military to civilian work-life. She is a currently an ordained minister, the founding director of a 501c-3 non-profit organization, and an entrepreneur with certifications in Life, Career, Relationship and Entrepreneurial Coaching. Her life is all about helping people transition from one place to the next in the shortest amount of time possible.
During her personal transition from the military, Ms. Fennell took jobs in many career areas, from law enforcement to corporate financial services management, from restaurant services to hotel hospitality management; she hoped to find where she fit in. After searching for years, she finally found her niche in training, person to person life coaching, and community development. She loves helping people through their various life transitions and, because of the challenges that she has faced and overcome, she considers herself a "Life Transition Expert" to both Veterans and civilians.
Through her life’s journey, Ms. Fennell learned that; while in the military, your family is those you serve with, but once you are discharged, it is challenging because you are now part of a civilian world that does not know you. One of the reasons Ms. Fennell wanted to join the VEC was to help others develop a transitional mindset for what is expected of Veterans when they become part of the civilian workforce. She wanted to help others overcome the challenges that she has faced with caring, understanding, and support.
One of the most recent issues that Ms. Fennell had to overcome was Veteran homelessness. Ms. Fennell knows that the vast majority of Veterans struggling in this area of life do not want to be homeless. She understands that there are situations where the issues of life, e.g., the economy, a marriage, a loss of income, addictions and other life challenges or combinations, have the potential to take everything. She sees that Veterans need support systems that offer hope to walk alongside Veterans in difficult times.
Her experience as a homeless Veteran in a shelter aggravated the military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder that she experienced in the military. Although she thought that she had managed that part of her life well, she started to experience levels of anxiety that were new to her and she eventually had to go to the emergency room. The homeless shelter experience became a traumatic experience for her, something that she does not want other Veterans to have to experience. Now that she has overcome homelessness, she looks for ways to assist other female Veterans. She says, when you’ve been to battle and won, you are positioned to help others through the same type of battles.
For Ms. Fennell, the VEC provides an opportunity to represent Veteran populations that don’t have a voice and to freely express how Veterans see and feel about the programs reviewed by the VEC team. She says that being heard as a Veteran makes a huge difference. Many of her Veteran friends are afraid of the VA because of the stigma that has been attached to VA hospitals. As a VEC member, she now knows what the VA is doing to better serve Veterans and as a Veteran, she can help other Veterans navigate the system to allow them access to services.
Ms. Fennell is pleased that she can share things about the VA that she knows to be true and not just opinions. Through the VEC, she has been able to engage with clinicians and researchers and find out firsthand about VA research. She appreciates the opportunity to pass that information to on others.