Being the first to accomplish a challenge is not unusual for many Paralyzed Veterans of America members. Marlon Benn, for example, was a pioneer in his education and persisted in his goals, even with a spinal cord disease (SCD).

A rare spinal disease leaves Marlon disabled, in deep depression.

Benn served from 1989 to 1993 on the USS Wichita. In 2005, he was diagnosed with syringomyelia after being hurt on the ship in the 1990s. Syringomyelia is a disease in which a cyst forms in the spinal cord. Because MRIs were not common at that time, he said, he did not receive one for diagnosis until 2005.

Although he underwent numerous surgeries, the disease still affected him tremendously. “I was in deep depression,” Benn said. “I need a scooter, walker or arm crutches to get around. I wasn’t able to do the things I used to do.”

He retired his job as a police officer in 2012 because he was unable to perform his duties.

The door opens to a brand new program & a brand new goal.

With the help of Brenda Vazquez-Alvarez, a Paralyzed Veterans senior national service officer in Bronx, NY, Benn learned about the nonprofit organization, Per Scholas. “I printed flyers of information and put them all over the VA hospital,” she said. “It was a way to open a door for our veterans with spinal cord injury or disease (SCI/D).”

The program [through PVA] really shows veterans that they are not limited to things; they just do things in a different manner.

During 2011, Vazquez-Alvarez and Per Scholas worked together to assist veterans to begin careers in computer technology. This program offers free computer technician training to veterans and civilians. While training, veterans learn preventative maintenance, installation and trouble-shooting, networking concepts, communication and professionalism and customer service and receive A+/MCITP Certification preparation. Per Scholas aims to provide technology education, access, training and job placement.

“I wanted to learn about computers, start a new career, to make something of myself,” Benn said. That determination led him to the program. He was the first SCI/D veteran to attend the computer-training program at Per Scholas and was part of the first all-veteran class.

It felt great to be a pioneer for paralyzed veterans of this program.

“It was quite a big event,” said Vazquez-Alvarez. “The program really shows veterans that they are not limited to things; they just do things in a different manner.”

Sharp and motivated, Marlon is in a class by himself.

Benn recently graduated from the program and obtained the A+ Certification.  He continues to work toward obtaining MCITP and the Network + Certification.

According to Benn, the process was rough, but he persevered, despite the a “hassle to get up at 9 a.m. every day in a scooter and stay until 4:30.” He would go to class, come home, study and take care of his daughter.

“Mr. Benn is unique, sharp and motivated,” said Vazquez-Alvarez. “He was always eager to do something different.”

“I would recommend this program to anyone who wants it, and I mean really wants it,” Benn said. “Unless you want it, you’re not going to get it.”

Today, Benn uses his certification to volunteer at the VA computer lab. He repairs and updates computers, and assists those with lesser knowledge about the technology. “Going to Per Scholas was best decision I ever made,” Benn added.