She is nationally recognized among lawyers as ‘the’ veteran’s pension expert, yet eldercare attorney Victoria Collier concentrates most of her attention on the older generation.
“I help older people obtain access to quality care in their Golden Years,” she proudly said. “I love working with seniors and supporting their endeavors to find all those ‘loopholes’ hidden from the people who have earned that valuable attention.”
Her expertise as an eldercare attorney began as a youthful journey of independence, to military carpentry, paralegal cross-training, a tattoo, then years of undergraduate and law school studies. All that energy is packaged into a 100 lb. 5’3” bundle of dynamite, with untiring devotion and, when needed, pit bull fervor.
A Houston native, Victoria left home after high school for the Dallas- Fort Worth area to pursue her future.
“That didn’t work out very well,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to change a fuse much less know what a fuse box was. I learned to take care of myself, fix a cabinet door or change a flat tire, and had my first exposure to eldercare working for a nursing home.”
Within a year she realized formal training and education opened more doors than independence.
“I enlisted in the Air Force when I was 19,” she said. “During basic training at Lackland AFB we were given dream sheets and tests for placement. I wanted to fly as a cargo master but although I could lift a specified weight, I couldn’t lift it high enough because of my height. My first choice after that, believe it or not, was carpentry. I wanted to be outside. Desk jobs for Air Force women at the time required skirts and blouses; that’s not me. I was given a photo of a flathead screwdriver…..I identified it as a Phillips Head. Not a great start, but I was still given my first choice, carpentry. I also filled out the sheet for a choice of duty stations. I specifically requested no overseas duty and a base on the East Coast.”
She was sent straight to Germany.
Ramstein, Germany: “I was called a Structural Specialist, a part of Civil Engineering,” Victoria said. “Much like Navy Seabees, but Air Force. We maintained the air base, housing, roofing, hangars, the big rollup doors, and created office spaces using a special interior plaster. I liked it; thought it was pretty neat, and had no fear climbing up on house or hangar roofs. Call us handymen, that’s okay, I enjoyed it. In Germany, the doors would lock behind you so I did a lot of ‘breaking in’ for folks, too,” she said, smiling.
Working in a shop of 50 guys and one other woman presented challenges for the ‘new kid’. She said, “It was rough on me at first, being small and female, plus the other woman wouldn’t talk to me. I didn’t have much to do, so just did my best, until I overheard the front line supervisor say that I was lazy. No way, that’s not me. So I stayed under his feet, with a broom, a mop, anything and everything to prove myself. It worked. I was accepted by my peers and my assignment in Germany turned out to be a wonderful experience.”
Victoria participated in Volksmarches (people ‘fitness’ marches). She explained, “Those were long walks we took with the citizens. After so many kilometers there would be shots of some kind of alcohol waiting for us to keep us warm, or at least that’s the excuse they used. After walks or other activities people would shower coed, well, that’s not me either, but you do get used to it, sort of.”
Asked if she picked up the language, Victoria replied. “A little. I knew enough German to ask for a restroom key or get directions. I pulled in a service station area once and told the attendant I was looking for the Black Forest. He answered, ‘Lady, you’re in it.’ Language barrier or not, Germany is a beautiful country.”
After two years of periodic Volksmarches, climbing roofs, building office space and maintaining rollup doors and hangars, Victoria headed home to the Lone Star State. “I was sent to Dyess AFB near Abilene,” she said. “I did the handyman bit for about a year then decided I wanted out of the Air Force. A friend told me to cross-train instead of getting out. So I chose a tech school for paralegals. I took tests and had interviews and apparently had what the Air Force wanted.”
Paralegal tech school was in Biloxi, MS. “That started my interest in the legal profession,” she said. “I enjoyed tech school, learned a lot, and of course in tech school you’re supposed to get a tattoo. So I did.” Asked to show her tattoo, Victoria grinned and replied, “Well, it’s a heart but showing it to you would be inappropriate.”
To relieve the stress of school, plus have a little fun, Victoria and three other airmen decided a trip to the Mardi Gras made perfect sense. “I don’t know if it made any sense at all,” she admitted. “I’m not much of a drinker, not at all, but at some point I joined another group, partied a bit too much, then they went home. I found myself alone at 3:00am in an alley among some really scary dregs. I hailed a taxi but had trouble remembering the name of our hotel, so told the driver our hotel had a fountain outside. He responded, ‘Lady, every hotel in New Orleans has a fountain out front.’ Well, somehow he found the right one. That was my last escapade to Mardi Gras.”
Victoria remained in the Air Force as a paralegal for another three years but the passion for law pulled her out of the military into college, with a law degree as the final goal. Her first port-of-call was Valdosta State to earn a degree in Psychology. Next, the University of Nebraska to earn a law degree. With her mom, dad, and a sister living in Atlanta, plus fond of big city opportunities, Victoria moved to Decatur in 2002 and opened a law practice.
A strong advocate for the elderly, she also represents veterans for non-service connected disabilities. Victoria stated, “My goals with veterans are very simple: to let them improve their pensions with 3 levels of aid and assistance. One, letting them know this assistance exists. Two, to help them obtain home care from the Veterans Administration. Three, using the laws to their advantage, finding those infamous ‘loopholes’ to do the right thing.”
Victoria Collier is the real deal. “I love working with seniors,” she said. “As we discussed, I worked with critical care seniors in a nursing home before I joined the military. During my stint in the Air Force, I worked off base at night in home healthcare. This is who I am.”
When asked if military service helped her prepare for the future, she replied, “Absolutely. I have a much better affinity towards veterans. The military is a community like no other. You miss it when you’re not in, so representing and being with veterans is like being back in, so to speak. The veterans of World War Two and Korea are very special to me.
Vietnam veterans are different; they’re not quite old enough, not yet. No affront meant, but it’s the legal issues of the older people that attract me. I joined the military when I was 19 years old and I’m glad I did. In the military you see things and form lasting relationships. You don’t have to worry if they have your back, you know they do because you have theirs. I don’t know of any other community like that.”
Considering her exposure to other cultures and other countries while in the military, she responded, “You learn to appreciate the United States of America. And let me say this; I appreciate blue collar workers. Estate planners use tax codes to help the rich avoid paying their taxes yet we need taxes to fund programs for the poor. The blue collar worker, the middle class if you will, pays for it all yet can’t gain access to the funds of the rich or take advantage of programs for the poor. Blue collar folks built this county; it’s who we are, it’s who I am.”
Her final thought: “Yes, and please quote me. I believe I’m serving my country more now by helping senior veterans than when I served as an enlisted person.” Victoria’s Elder & Disability Law Firm can be reached at: email@example.com
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.