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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Stevens

What took so long?

People have been hearing for years that I'd be a gunsmith: what happened?

Most people have probably never heard of Helmuth von Moltke. However, his most famous quote—which is normally paraphrased—is something most are familiar with:

"No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main force."

Looking back at my life over the past three years proves Moltke’s words of wisdom both accurate and—in my case—prophetic. When I got out of the Army, I like to think I was extremely prepared for what was to come next. I had some land I was going to build a house on. With the help of my family at the Yellow Rose Firing Range, I had a business location and a plan in place for employment post-military. I was also plugged into the VA system, and everything looked good for managing my medical issues in post-military life. I was also enrolled in the VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program that offered to help me fund the costs of my business startup. In my opinion, I had a really solid plan. Not much could go wrong with a plan like that. Little did I know, I was about to learn a whole bunch of tough life lessons at what would seem like a non-stop pace. My first problems started, unsurprisingly to any of my veteran readers, with the VA. Somehow, despite all my efforts, I had the misfortune of getting “lost in the system,” a mishap that took over six months to resolve. While on active duty, I had weekly checkups with doctors and multiple specialists who worked on aggressive treatment plans. Once I was out of the military, I spent my time languishing in horrible pain at home, unable to drive, taking medications that weren’t working, and getting the classic VA run-around. To top it all off—because I like to make my own life difficult—I was trying to build my house at the same time. Eventually, things with the VA were resolved. It would take another year and a half before I would find a treatment program that worked for me. But between that program, good nutrition, and exercise, I am light-years ahead of where I had ever hoped to possibly be. I still have issues, and I know I’ll never be what I was before my medical retirement. But I have a high quality of life, and I’m back to doing things I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do, which is more than I could have ever hoped for.

Walking around with heavy stuff on my back just like I used to

My second setback was with the VA Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) Program. This program exists to help medically-disabled veterans find or create gainful employment, despite their disabilities. It also helps to fund veterans who wish to start their own business, provided that veteran hasn’t already started said business. Initially, VR&E didn’t want to help me because, with three overseas combat deployments, I was sure to have PTSD. Their policy regarding PTSD wouldn’t allow them to place me in the firearms industry. After a thorough review of all my medical records, along with a mental health evaluation, I was cleared of any PTSD-related issues that would interfere with my working in the firearms industry. This process took around six months.

After those six months, VR&E told me they couldn’t do anything to help me because I was already school-trained, and since I wasn’t “disabled enough” to qualify for small business help, there was nothing they could do. After another six months of doctor’s evaluations, and even a small stint enrolled in college classes to see how my disabilities would impact my attendance, VR&E reached another conclusion: I was too disabled to viably run a small business. In order to be considered for VR&E support in opening and running a small business, I would have had to lower my VA rating, which would make a pretty significant cut to the benefits and treatments I receive.

At that point, I’d been trying to get funding from them for over fourteen months and was almost relieved to wash my hands of them. Around that time, thanks to help from my family and a good deal of personal back-breaking work, my house was finally completed.

How things looked before starting construction on the living room

The end result

Unfortunately, these setbacks and changes pushed my marriage to the breaking point. My now ex-wife moved out. I could point fingers and spew bitterness all I want, but the truth is we’d found ourselves in some extraordinary circumstances that would strain any relationship: ours was no exception. We decided to file for divorce, which sadly turned into a lengthy custody battle. Again, I could point fingers, but the truth is we both love and care about our son deeply, and we both wanted what was best for him, but didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on what that meant.

Between being a single father of a rambunctious son, dealing with what turned into an extremely aggressive and time-intensive treatment plan at the Oklahoma City VA for my disabilities, and the laborious court case, I decided to pump the brakes on my entrepreneurial aspirations. Looking back on things now, I know that was the best decision I could have made. I’m now starting my business three years later than I would have liked to, but my son is thriving, my disabilities are much less of a hindrance, and—most importantly—I’m in a good place mentally to dive into a new business, one that I can focus on building up in the right way.

If Helmuth von Moltke’s words of wisdom strike again anytime in the future, I’m confident that my experiences over the last three years have prepared me well. I am optimistic that I can properly deal with almost anything new that comes my way, having already had significant firsthand experience in doing so.

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