ARLINGTON, Va. — Enduring a disability as a Soldier in the United States Army is about more than rehabilitating your body — it's about rebuilding your life. And for Spc. Zedrick Gonzalez, who was just 19 when he lost the lower half of his left leg, it would have been a much more difficult road were it not for the assistance he received at the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Florida.
Gonzalez was stationed in Fort Lee in Virginia when he was diagnosed with cancer in early 2019. Eventually, he ended up at the Orlando VMAC where he met Rich Rodriguez, the recovery care coordinator there as part of the Army Recovery Care Program.
Today, he’s receiving full medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, has moved into a new house with his wife in Palmetto, Florida, and they’re now expecting a child. And it was the assistance from Rodriguez that helped him get to this point.
“It was invaluable having somebody help me go through the process,” Gonzalez said. “When I got out, I was doing all this paperwork that I had no idea about. [Rodriguez] had the experience and had been through it, and if he didn’t have the answer he’d find out.”
Now, Gonzalez is working at a car dealership and plans to go to school where he can develop his skills.
“I would love to stick around here for a while and would like to do some rental properties on the side,” he said. “I want to do college, my wife also wants to go to college to finish up her master’s, and we can actually do that with the VA.”
Gonzalez said his advice to other Soldiers going through the process is to stick with it and trust whoever is trying to help.
“At first, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to talk to this guy too much, it should be straightforward,’” he said. “But it definitely wasn’t. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through, and I’m glad I didn’t lose his number and forget about it.”
Rodriguez said Gonzalez’s proactive and positive attitude helped him navigate all of the ins and outs.
"His attitude was, 'I'm going to succeed no matter what," Rodriguez said. "It wasn't hard working with him at all."
The paperwork and VA process often are intimidating to young Soldiers, which is why coordinators like Rodriguez are so essential — they can identify next steps and critical information before going out into the world.
“I helped him understand what to say, what to do, what to expect, any possible hardships, and how to mitigate those obstacles and relieve any stressors,” he said.
A young Soldier probably doesn’t expect to be an amputee and joining the civilian world so early in their career, but when it does happen, people like Rodriguez are there to help them plot a new path forward.