When Lisa Veres enlisted in the Navy in 1984, she had planned on making a career out of the military.
“I was on a good path,” she said. “My dad was a Navy pilot and he had a good career, so I was kind of hoping to follow in his footsteps.”
Veres started as a hospital corpsman, and after finishing her nursing degree, received her commission as a Navy Nurse Corps officer.
But when she was deployed during the Persian Gulf War on the hospital ship USNS Comfort, she injured her back. It was severe enough that she was sent to Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for care. That’s where doctors discovered and removed a tumor on her spinal cord.
They diagnosed Veres with neurofibromatosis type 1, which can cause tumors to growin the nervous system.
Over the next three decades, she had 15 more surgeries to relieve the pressure on herspine from new tumor growth.
In 1992, the Navy decided to medically retire Veres although she said she could still run and pass a physical readiness test at the time. They felt her condition would become chronic and debilitating. She left service with a 60% service-connected disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs and went to work as a civilian operating room nurse.
Around 2008, she started having trouble walking and needed to use canes. She also started having severe back spasms caused by trauma from repeated surgeries.
Her mother suggested looking into a disability rating increase and using the VA for her medical care. Until that point, Veres hadn’t considered either.
The first person she saw at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was a benefits advocate from DAV.
Veres said he was able to quickly get her a disability rating increase to 100%.
Then while seeking relief for the spasms, Veres was referred to her VA’s spinal cord injury and disorder clinic. Unlike the civilian-sector doctors she’d seen before, the clinic’s doctors were the first to recommend and provide effective treatment that didn’t involveheavy narcotics or surgeries beyond the ones she had already endured.
It was also about a decade ago at that spinal cord clinic that a recreational therapistintroduced Veres to adaptive skiing. Skiing had been a big part of her life—she met her husband at a ski club—and she wanted to do it again.
So she signed up for bi-ski lessons in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The training enabled her to go down a mountain with her husband and son for the first time in years.
“It was incredible,” Veres said.
More surgeries prevented her from continuing to ski until this year. She mostly uses a wheelchair now, but she’s happy she’s able to get back onto the slopes. Her recreational therapist signed her up for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, co-presented by DAV and the VA.
“[I’m looking forward to] showing myself that I’m not relegated to a very small world in my wheelchair,” Veres said. “There’s so much out there.” Veres said she’s looking forward to the challenge of “showing myself that I’m not relegated to a very small world in my wheelchair. There’s so much out there.”
She encourages other veterans with mobility issues to give adaptive sports a try, even if they’re afraid of getting hurt. She praises the instructors and guides and said they make the experience safe and enjoyable.
“The mental healing and well-being that you feel is so much greater than the fear of physical harm,” Veres said.