September 7, 2009 in City

The ripple effect: Veteran defying the recession

Stacia Douglas finding stability, prosperity as a VA employee and patient
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Stacia Douglas’ new job at the VA has allowed her to buy a house in north Spokane. “It’s been a phenomenal year,” says Douglas, with her daughter, Amaya, 8.
(Full-size photo)

On the Web

Read four previous installments in this series at spokesman.com/tags/ripple-effect.

Even in a recession, times are good for some people. Stacia Douglas is happy to be swimming against the current.

Several months into a new job at Spokane’s VA Medical Center, Douglas is happy that she’s been able to buy a home and move out of the trailer where she had been living with her daughter. She’s feeling better about herself after getting counseling for issues that have dogged her for years, and has been able to expand the range of conveniences in her life – getting DirecTV instead of picking up broadcast channels, upgrading to high-speed Internet.

“It’s been a phenomenal year,” said Douglas, a 40-year-old Spokane single mother and Marine Corps veteran.

Her good fortune reflects certain realities of the economy at large. For one thing, federal employment is considered among the most recession-proof corners of the job market. Hiring at Spokane’s VA center has been particularly robust, doubling to more than 800 positions in the past several years as services have been added in rural areas and for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, the economic stimulus package included significant help for first-time homebuyers like Douglas – who used the $8,000 tax credit from her new $150,000 home purchase on Spokane’s North Side to make improvements.

In her job as the executive secretary to the chief of staff at the VA center, Douglas is connected, directly and indirectly, to thousands of veterans who come there for medical care. One of those people is Jerry Horton, a Coeur d’Alene man who was living on the streets until January, and who was profiled in The Spokesman-Review in the last installment of this series.

Despite the good fortune of the past year, Douglas retains some of the frugal practices she’s followed for years – partly out of habit and partly in response to the economic woes she sees around her. She sticks to regular coffee instead of espresso drinks. She stays home more than she used to, and has friends over. She economized for her daughter’s recent birthday party with a Costco cake.

“I’m used to it,” she said.

‘Paradigm shift’

Part of Douglas’ current satisfaction stems not from her job at the VA as much as her status as a patient there. Having served as an active-duty Marine from 1988 to 1991, and then in the reserves until 1998, she was eligible for basic health care at the center.

Once she began working there two years ago, she started seeing posters about counseling services – and that prompted her to address a problem that arose during her time in the military.

Though she doesn’t talk about it specifically, Douglas is being treated for “military sexual trauma” – a condition that follows an assault or incident of harassment of women in the armed forces. It’s a prevalent problem – 21 percent of women veterans screened for MST have it, the VA says – and it’s one of the areas the VA system is focusing on as it gears up to deal with more women veterans.

Women make up a small but rapidly growing portion of the VA patient load. In Spokane, between 2 percent and 3 percent of all patients are women, with nearly 1,500 enrolled for treatment. That’s up 26 percent since 2006, said Julie Liss, women’s program manager.

Nationwide, women make up 7.7 percent of VA patients, and their numbers are expected to increase by 17 percent by 2033.

Douglas said MST was hindering her life in many ways – she blamed herself for problems stemming from the incident and maintained bad habits and bad relationships. In the years after she left the service, she made frequent changes – going back to school, working at a domestic violence organization and as a social worker, moving briefly to England.

She started working at the VA in 2007; shortly thereafter, she entered counseling.

“It was a complete paradigm shift,” she said. “Once you start getting help, things fall into place.”

She credits that counseling with helping her get a more solid footing, emotionally and financially. In January, she was promoted to her current position – a job that brought her a significant raise, to more than $40,000 annually, and a great deal more responsibility.

That made it possible for her to move from the two-bedroom mobile home to her new North Side home, where she lives with her 8-year-old daughter. She also has a son who lives with his father in Arkansas.

The new place has three bedrooms, an office, a laundry room, hardwood floors, a patio and a garage – amenities that some might take for granted but Douglas is really enjoying.

“Right now, I’m happy. I’m in a new position and I want to master it,” she said. “I’m enjoying spending time with my daughter, working on my career and working on myself, and going to church.”

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