By Ed Tjaden
I honestly never intended to be in the military, but after a weekend visit with my son in 2014, I decided to join the Army. Although I was a hero in his eyes already, I knew I had a long way to go to become the man my son deserved as a father, and that the Army was my best shot to live up to his vision. I left Eastern Illinois University, where I was unsuccessfully attempting to be a college student, and became an air defender.
Unfortunately, my Army career was cut short. After my deployment, I needed two surgeries to correct severe problems with both of my ankles. The result was confinement to a wheelchair and medical retirement. This gave me the opportunity to test my perseverance as I worked my way out of my wheelchair to a cane, and now to intermittent use of my cane as I continue to make strides in my recovery.
The military changed my life forever by showing me how to succeed through hard work, discipline, motivation and perseverance. I strive to impart these traits to my sons by demonstrating the value of pursuing your dream regardless of any obstacles that may stand in your way. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned through my service — and that I try to teach my sons — is to reject failure as an option.
I used the same work ethic and drive that helped me succeed in the military to thrive in academia. I was fortunate the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis took a chance on a veteran who had become a better, more motivated and dedicated student through military experience.
Although most of my classmates may not have had the responsibility of a family and children, I wanted to set an example for my sons. I started in the top 25 percent of my class and achieved my goal of graduating in the top 10 percent. My climb was directly attributable to the lessons and values instilled in me during my military service.
The military taught me the true meaning of leadership, and I carried that with me to law school. During my second year at Washington University, I was president of the school’s Student Veterans Association where I worked with the admissions department to create an early admissions program that gives veterans the time needed to navigate the GI Bill or VA education programs to secure funding for law school. Moreover, once new veterans arrived at the law school, I mentored them to ensure their academic success, encouraging us all to come together and act the same way as we did in the military: as one working toward a common goal.
In my third year, I was selected to be one of the 2018 Veteran of Foreign Wars/Student Veterans of America legislative fellows, which gave me the opportunity to lobby Congress with the help of both veterans’ service organizations to add peer mentoring into the education programs offered by the VA.
As I have transitioned out of academia and into my career as an attorney, I have maintained my passion for helping fellow veterans. I am now serving as a Warrior Leader for the Wounded Warrior Project to assist in bringing various programs to veterans in the St. Louis area. I firmly believe peer mentoring is extremely beneficial for veterans moving from military service to civilian life.
With the sustained help of our brothers and sisters in arms, there is no limit to what we can achieve, and that keeps me motivated to continue serving veterans in my community. Whether it is supporting veteran-owned businesses, serving as a mentor, or offering help with estate planning, I enjoy being an active member of the veteran community.
Although estate planning may not be top of mind for many veterans, their spouses and their children, it provides peace of mind, something veterans often strive to give others. Estate planning involves making decisions about how your property, including real estate, life insurance and investments, is used, maintained and distributed if you become incapacitated and after death. Through the creation of a thorough estate plan, veterans can ensure their children will be cared for in the way they want and that their family will obtain necessary financial and healthcare documents. An estate plan can also save a veteran’s loved ones a lot of time and money.
An estate plan gives veterans something they are familiar with: a clear, delineated chain of command for necessary decision making. My law firm even provides a diagram of an estate plan that strongly resembles the organizational charts used in the military.
I am thankful to be a partner to veterans by providing them with the peace of mind they give others through their service. I firmly believe veterans helping other veterans is a continuation of the comradery we all shared during our time in the military, and I know any success I achieve both professionally and personally can be ascribed to the values engrained in me in the Army — hard work, discipline, motivation, perseverance and refusal to accept failure as an option.
About Author: As an associate practicing in the Estate Planning & Probate Department at St. Louis-based law firm Lewis Rice, Ed Tjaden develops and implements tax and estate plans for individuals and families. Prior to his career as an attorney, Ed joined the Army where he spent 15 months serving in Iraq as the night shift Operations Non-Commissioned Officer for a Brigade ADAM/BAE Unit. After he was medically retired, Ed earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Eastern Illinois University in 2014 and his J.D. from Washington University School of Law in 2018.