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William Collins spent 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and did three tours of duty in Iraq, advising commanders on the application of military law to combat situations and helping to reestablish the Iraqi court system. He planned on staying in the military at least 20 years, but a medical condition aggravated by his service forced him into medical retirement well before he planned on leaving the service.
But as far as the 43-year-old is concerned, everything happens for a reason. A year ago he came on board as veterans advisor for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's staff through the House's Wounded Warrior Program. He is one of 30 Wounded Warrior Fellows working with House staff; Collins is based in Washington, D.C., while the other Fellows work out of various district offices.
"The Fellowship basically fell in my lap. It's kind of been rolling for me ever since," said Collins, while addressing the Legion's Legislative Commission on Monday. "I never would have planned this or expected this as any kind of career path, but it's just opened up my eyes to a whole different world. There are a lot of needs up here."
The Wounded Warrior Program was established to create fellowships that will provide employment opportunities for wounded or disabled veterans within the House of Representatives. Wherever possible, those selected for the program will be given the opportunity to transition into full-time employment; however, full-time employment is not guaranteed at the conclusion of the two-year fellowship.
The positions are filled by veterans with a 30-percent or greater service-connected disability rating from either a military Physical Evaluation Board or the Department of Veterans Affairs. If a fellowship is located within a representative's district, the appointment is contingent on the representative's continuous representation of that district. Candidates for employment must have been honorably discharged and possess a high school diploma or GED certificate.
Collins said the makeup of Congress has changed from when he was younger. "A majority of them (were veterans)," he said. "I didn't realize what a transition has taken place. There are only a handful of members of Congress who are actually veterans these days."
Collins said that members of Congress do have a desire to help veterans. He, in turn, believes he can aid in that cause by bringing a veterans' perspective to legislative issues. "A responsibility I have... is to help those generations who haven't served, but want to help those who have, understand what it is we do and did, and what those needs are," Collins said. "There is that need for education."