She served her country for more than two decades but now believes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is letting her down.
Dr. Lenora Langlais said she was approved for the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program, only she got cancer and had to fight for her life instead.
Langlais is very humble, but her accolades deserve some significant acknowledgment.
She received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation, joint service achievement, and Purple Heart to name a few.
Langlais spent 24 years in the military serving in three different branches.
"I'm a nurse, an advance practicing nurse for the military services,” she said.
Langlais said she was hit by a mortar round while deployed in Iraq in 2006.
"Shrapnel of the mortar round,” she said. “I was actually injured in my neck, face and internal organs of my facial nerves.”
Lucky to be alive, the battle wound is a permanent reminder of that day.
Despite the injuries, Langlais used her time in the military to advance her education.
A graduate of Villanova, she said she earned a masters from Michigan University Central.
Eventually, she became a doctorate prepared nurse.
But this former combat nurse wants more and says to move into a nursing staff leadership a position within the VA or private company she needs a master of science in nursing.
And there's a program from disabled Veterans to help pay for it called The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment or VR&E.
A spokesperson for the VA told Team 10, VR&E is a program that assists service members and Veterans who have service-connected disabilities that make it difficult for them to prepare for, find, and maintain employment in positions consistent with their abilities, aptitudes, and interests.
Service members are eligible to apply for VR&E benefits if they expect to receive an honorable discharge upon separation from active duty, obtain a VA memorandum rating or Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) rating of 20 percent or more.
"I'm requesting the master of science because at the VA to get an executive nurse position, it's an unspoken rule. But I've gone and looked, and I've interviewed and talked to people [and] it's an unspoken rule that you must have an MSN (master of science in nursing), and that's what I'm seeking to get,” she said.
In 2015, Langlais applied for the benefit and was approved.
But life had a different plan.
Shortly after the approval, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She spent two years fighting for her life enduring round after round of chemotherapy and radiation.
Eventually, Langlais was told she is cancer free for now.
She said she reapplied for the VR&E benefits. However, there was a different outcome this second time.
"After I go through the journey of fighting my terminal illness, then I come back and am told I’m not entitled because a different counselor has a different perception of me,” she said.
"After carefully reviewing the evidence I determined that you are suitably employed as the safe patient handling and coordinator at the VA San Diego Healthcare System," Langlais said, reading her benefits denial letter for 10News.
A spokesperson for the VA tells Team 10 in a statement:
"The purpose of VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program is to assist Veterans with service-connected disabilities to receive the education or training needed to find suitable employment.
For Veterans and Servicemembers with service-connected disabilities so severe that they cannot immediately consider work, VR&E offers services to improve their ability to live as independently as possible.
After a thorough review of Dr. Langlais’ file, we have determined she does not have an employment handicap and therefore, is not entitled to VR&E. She has maintained suitable employment as a safe patient handling and mobility coordinator with the San Diego VA Healthcare System since January 2017. Dr. Langlais has well-developed transferable skills, work experience and education, including bachelor’s degree in nursing, a master’s degree in health administration and a doctorate in healthcare administration to qualify her for employment that is consistent with her abilities, aptitudes, and interests.”
“Suitably employed is just good enough to get by, no it is not,” said Langlais.
The VA spokesperson said Langlais could be approved in 2015 and denied just a few years later.
The VA explained:
"In 2015, Dr. Langlais was approved due to her lack of employment, lack of networking and connections within the civilian job market, and ability to provide documentation of an unsuccessful job search. In 2018, Dr. Langlais was not approved due to being suitably employed within her field of interest, as well as her abilities, and aptitude showing successful employment and ability to network within the job market. Her education and skills proved to be transferable to the civilian sector, allowing Dr. Langlais the opportunity for job growth and advancement.”
Langlais said her job is part-time and she has applied to more than 27 upper-level jobs at the VA, but has not gotten any of them.
She called the VA’s decision “disappointing.”
"I know that my time is limited, but I want to make good use of it, and I want to serve and take care of Veterans,” she said.
In 2016, Langlais was the recipient of the 10News Leadership award.
Congresswoman Susan Davis represented Langlais and wrote in a statement that she would be happy to help her or any other Veteran in need of assistance with a congressional inquiry. Casework authorization forms are available on Davis’ website.
Q. Also, what are the exact qualifications for VR&E?
A. The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program assists service members and Veterans who have service-connected disabilities that make it difficult for them to prepare for, find, and maintain employment in positions consistent with their abilities, aptitudes, and interests. Service members are eligible to apply for VR&E benefits if they expect to receive an honorable discharge upon separation from active duty, obtain a VA memorandum rating or Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) rating of 20 percent or more. Veterans are eligible to apply if they have received or will receive an honorable or other than dishonorable discharge and have a VA service-connected disability rating of at least 10 percent. Once entitled, vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRC) work collaboratively with service members and Veterans to identify and clarify rehabilitation issues, develop solutions, develop employment or independent living options and establish an effective rehabilitation plan.
Q. Who makes the determination approved/denied?
A. Before VR&E services are provided, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) must first make a determination as to whether the Servicemember or Veteran is entitled to services based on the outcome of a comprehensive initial evaluation. Following the entitlement determination, the VRC is required to determine if the achievement of a vocational goal is currently reasonably feasible for the Servicemember or Veteran.
Q. What does the VA consider suitable employment?
A. A Manual (M28M, Part IV, Section B, Chapter 2), Suitable Employment is defined as:
- Employment which is consistent with the Veteran’s expressed interests, aptitudes, and abilities that can be measured and/or demonstrated
- Does not aggravate the Veteran or Servicemember’s disability(ies)
- Is stable and continuing
- Requires reasonably developed skills