Healing at 40-feet Below

LinkedIn
Scuba diver sees statue of himself at a underwater memorial

By Sean Kimmons, Army News Service

As soon as Shawn Campbell saw his name on a plaque next to a statue sunken 40 feet to the seafloor, the memories of the soldiers he had once served with flooded his mind.

The life-size statue, one of a dozen concrete figures that make up the nation’s only underwater veterans memorial, depicts a soldier wearing combat gear from the Iraq War—a war Campbell fought in three separate times.

“It really took my breath away,” said the former staff sergeant, who is now a master diver at a Florida dive shop. “It was a huge honor.”

His company made a donation to place his name at the base of the statue before the figures were recently installed, about 10 miles off the coast of Clearwater, Florida.

The memorial, called Circle of Heroes, honors the entire military with statues portraying a variety of service members in what organizers hope will serve as a therapeutic dive for veterans, and a unique diving experience for all.

Plans call for an additional 12 statues to be added to the memorial next year.

For Campbell, who served about a decade in the Army as a combat medic, he said the memorial helped him remember those who never returned home and those who struggled once they did.

“I had a lot of friends who didn’t make it back,” he said a week after the memorial officially opened. “And even more who did make it back, but then couldn’t win the battle with themselves after the war.”

One such friend was Staff Sgt. Victor Cota. He and Campbell had been in the same 4th Infantry Division unit that provided security for senior leaders traveling in and around Baghdad.

On May 14, 2008, Cota’s vehicle hit a roadside bomb, killing the 33-year-old Tucson, Arizona, native.

“He was a really good friend of mine,” Campbell said. “We lost him during [my] second deployment.”

In 2013, Campbell left the Army to finish his associate’s degree and then worked as a commercial deep-sea diver. He now teaches courses at a dive shop in the Tampa area where he grew up.

“I was like, well, if I survived the war, I’m going to start doing everything I want to do now,” he said.

Campbell said scuba diving is a relaxing activity that calms his post-traumatic stress and gives him time to analyze his thoughts in peace.

“It helps me deal with things,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to have a bad day when you’re underwater and you get to reflect upon yourself.”

Former Staff Sgt. Jace Badia, who is also a diving instructor, agrees, saying the sport gives him more freedom of movement.

Badia, an infantryman who lost his left leg above the knee to a roadside bomb in Iraq, said he and others who have amputated limbs can move however they like while floating below the surface.

He even knows a blind veteran who enjoys scuba diving.

“If you don’t have the ability to run because of prosthetics, you can get in the water with a tank and you can swim as fast as you want,” he said. “Nothing is stopping you.”

Badia, who manned a boat so other wounded veterans could dive around the memorial last week, said he is looking forward to seeing it soon in an upcoming dive.

“I can’t believe that they finally made an underwater memorial for [service members],” he said. “That’s amazing—I never even thought it was possible.”

While memorials are typically above ground, this one allows visitors to connect on a deeper level. There is even a nonprofit that specifically takes wounded veterans to the site as an alternative form of therapy.

“The one thing about scuba diving is when you’re down there, even if you’re in a group, you’re still by yourself,” Campbell said. “You have no choice but to reflect on what you’re looking at.

“It’s more of a serene experience that you never get an opportunity to experience above the water.”

Source: army.mil

Army veteran who said prosthetic legs were repossessed to get new pair from VA

LinkedIn
veteran Jerry Holliman pictured whose prosthetic leges repossessd

Last August, two months after doctors amputated his left leg, Holliman received a pair of prosthetic legs from Hanger. He had begun therapy sessions with the company at the Collins State Veterans Home to learn how to properly walk.

That all came to halt on Dec. 23 when a representative from Hanger repossessed his prosthetic legs after learning the VA would not pay for them. It was a huge blow to Holliman’s hopes of being able to return to home in Hattiesburg, Miss., for the holidays.

“It’s like somebody walked up to you and gave you a punch in the gut,” Holliman said. “Why would you come and take a veteran’s legs?’

The set of prosthetic legs were returned to Holliman a few days later. However, Holliman said Hanger would no longer make the needed adjustments that allowed him to properly use the prosthetic legs until someone paid for them.

The VA told Holliman that the prosthetics legs were obtained as a private purchase, which precluded them from paying for them on his behalf. Instead, he said he was told to use Medicare to pay for them. He refused that option because he said using Medicare would have required him to pay a co-pay.

Krisita Burkey, the vice president of public relations and communications at Hanger, told Fox News in a statement that patient privacy laws prevented the company from talking about Holliman’s case specifically. However, she said, “Hanger does not take back prosthetic devices once a patient signs for the delivery.

“A signed verification of delivery is a necessary step in the delivery process due to regulations, but actual payment is not required upon delivery to the patient,” the statement continued. “Payment is typically received from the applicable payer, whether it is a private insurer, Medicare/Medicaid or the VA, at a later date.”

Walker told Fox News that Holliman had come to the VA’s prosthetics department in Jackson shortly after his left leg was amputated. Holliman inquired about the VA making him a pair of prosthetic legs, but Walker said the VA was unable to begin the process at the time.

“We cannot begin a prosthetic evaluation until the skin is completely healed because of the pressure and the things that are required to wear and use a prosthetic device,” he explained.

Walker, who was given permission by Holliman to speak about the case to Fox News, said the 69-year-old never followed up with the VA after that visit. Instead, he said Holliman went to a private clinic and then to Hanger to obtain prosthetic legs.

“We want veterans to use us,” Walker said. “If a veteran chooses to go outside of our system, we cannot, unfortunately, take on the responsibilities for private purchases and that’s the case.”

Holliman denied that he had gone to Hanger on his own to get prosthetic legs. He said he had no authority to make his own appointments and was following directives from medical personnel at the state-run veterans home where he’s resided for the last year.

After the VA’s decision to give him a new set of prosthetic legs, Holliman told Fox News he accepted an appointment for later this month. However, after this ordeal, he remains skeptical.

“I can’t walk on proposals. I need to see it [to] fruition,” Holliman said. “I’m trying to recoup my life. I can’t do it on my own. I need the help of the VA.”

Continue on to FOX News to read the complete article.

A Texas man is making canes for veterans using hundreds of donated Christmas trees

LinkedIn
walking cane that has the engraved words canes for veterans

A man in Texas is designing canes for veterans, and he’s asking you to donate your Christmas tree to help him do it. US Army veteran Jamie Willis started Canes for Veterans Central Texas in 2016 when he realized he wasn’t the only veteran who needed a cane that was safe, sturdy “and not just ugly.”

After serving in the Army for eight years, Willis was left a 100 percent disabled veteran completely unable to work.

“I do this so I don’t sit home all day feeling sorry for myself,” Willis told CNN. “This is all out of kindness. I do everything out of pocket and from donations.”

When the cane he was given by the Veterans Affairs had no style, kept collapsing and wasn’t what he deemed trustworthy, Willis turned to a Florida organization called Free Canes for Veterans which was giving out 500 canes.

After he was told that they had no more canes, Oscar Morris, the man behind the organization, instead taught Willis how to make his own.

“When I successfully sat down and made my very first cane, I asked him if I could branch it off and start Cane for Veterans in Central Texas and he said he would love for me to do that,” Willis said.

Since then, the 50-year-old has made and delivered more than 200 canes to veterans who live all over the world.

The man behind the canes

Morris, the 54-year-old US Army veteran behind the original idea, said Willis was the fifth veteran he knows to start their own branch of Free Canes for Veterans.

“It would be a blessing to get the word out for more veterans to do this,” Morris said “Each of these veterans were on my original list of 500 in 2015. It was the act of kindness and a piece of wood that was their inspiration.”

The organizations take stripped a Christmas tree and transforms it into a cane for a veteran.

This is the second year Willis has asked for tree donations, but he says he has been overwhelmed with the support this year.

“It’s been an outpouring of donations this year, more than I ever thought I would get,” Willis told CNN. “Home Depot flooded me with trees, they’re sending me 400, and the rest of the community will be giving me about another 100 trees.”

Each tree is the equivalent of about one cane, which takes Willis an entire day to make, package, and ship to the veteran who will use it. While he sometimes asks them to cover shipping, Willis covers all costs from out of his own pockets as well as donations, and pays for shipping if the veteran can’t afford it.

“One day, grab a cane and walk with it,” Morris said. “You will feel broken because others will see you as broken. We make our canes for veterans to look ‘cool’ while giving honor for their service.”

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Stamp aims to raise awareness, funds for PTSD

LinkedIn
PTSD Stamp

Proceeds from sales of a new postage stamp issued recently will go to support post-traumatic stress disorder research and education at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD.

The PTSD center, based at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, includes seven sites around the country that are focused on studying and treating PTSD, a mental health condition some people develop following a traumatic event such as combat, a natural disaster, sexual assault or a car accident. Symptoms may include reliving the event, avoidance of reminders of the event, negative thoughts and anxiety that linger long after the trauma.

While Paula Schnurr, the PTSD center’s executive director, said she is glad to have the revenue stream to support the center’s work, she also hopes the stamp brings awareness to the condition, which will affect tens of millions people in the U.S. — both veterans and civilians — in their lifetimes.

Schnurr said she hopes “people who have PTSD or family members see this and they might take some action.”

She spoke in a phone interview from Charlotte, N.C., where she participated in an event to celebrate the stamp’s release on Monday.

The stamp, which costs 65 cents, features a green plant sprouting from ground covered with fallen leaves that is intended to symbolize the PTSD healing process, according to a news release from the Postal Service. It was designed by Greg Breeding, the postal service’s art director, and includes original photography by Mark Laita, a Los Angeles-based commercial photographer.

Treatment for PTSD both through medication and therapy has improved in recent years, Schnurr said, noting that some of the center’s research is focused on the effectiveness of different treatments.

Public awareness of PTSD has grown following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, which caused many first responders and others to develop the condition, she said. Subsequent events such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and numerous mass shootings — including one earlier this year at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the city where Monday’s stamp ceremony took place — have kept the condition in the public eye.

In addition to Schnurr, speakers at Monday’s event at McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square also included representatives from the American Red Cross, The American Veteran Foundation, the Wounded Warriors Project and the Charlotte Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Among the speakers was Chuck Denny, the founder of The American Veteran Foundation based in North Carolina, who was a major proponent of the PTSD stamp, in honor of his father, Garland Denny, who served in the Navy in the Korean War and, before his death in 2015, advocated for a stamp to raise money for veteran services.

“The Postal Service is honored to issue this semipostal stamp as a powerful symbol of the healing process, growth and hope for tens of millions of Americans who experience PTSD,” David C. Williams, vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service, said in a news release. “Today, with the issuance of this stamp, the nation renews its commitment to raise funds to help treat soldiers, veterans, first responders, health care providers and other individuals dealing with this condition.”

The price of the stamp includes the cost of a first-class stamp at the time of purchase — which is 55 cents currently — and an amount to fund PTSD research. They are available at post offices around the country, through an online shop at usps.com/store or by calling 800-STAMP24. Sheets of 20 can be purchased for $13.

Congress, through the Semipostal Authorization Act, allows the Postal Service to issue and sell “semipostal” stamps to benefit causes that are “in the national public interest and appropriate.”

Revenue from sales of the Healing PTSD stamp — less the cost of postage and reasonable costs incurred by the Postal Service — will go to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Continue on to Valley News to read the complete article.

VetsAid Selects 2019 Veteran NonProfit Partners to Benefit from Concert

LinkedIn
VetsAid concert performers and attendees with a big screenin the background showing one soldier helping another up a hill

VetsAid, the third annual concert to support veterans and their families hosted by Joe Walsh, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee and multi GRAMMY Award recipient, has selected the nonprofit partners that will benefit from this year’s November 10th concert at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

The grants are broken out into large and small grant recipients and all net proceeds from the concert determine the final grant amounts. Founded by Walsh in 2017, the 501C3 VetsAid has disbursed over $1.2M to veteran-serving nonprofits.

The large grant recipients selected are: Combined Arms, Headstrong Project, United States Veterans Initiative (U.S. Vets), Next Op Veterans, Vets4Warriors, Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, Swords to Plowshares and Sentinels of Freedom.

The small grant recipients selected are: Grace After Fire, Train A Dog Save A Warrior (TADSAW), Texas Veterans Outdoors, Smiles for Veterans, Hero’s Bridge, Every Third Saturday, Vets on Track Foundation, Easter Seals Houston and Heartstrides.

Providing support to organizations that care for the nation’s veterans and military families is deeply personal to Walsh, a Gold Star survivor whose father died while on active duty on Okinawa, Japan when Walsh was 20 months old.

“It’s with great excitement that we announce our grant recipients for VetsAid 2019,” explains Joe Walsh. “VetsAid is a festival that we bring to points across this great country of ours and this year we are honored to spread the love and funds to the veterans community in and around the Houston metro area. Come celebrate with us this November 10th at the Toyota Center!”

With assistance from the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO), Walsh and the Board of VetsAid reviewed numerous organizations before selecting these 17 veteran focused nonprofits.

“Mr. Walsh is a great philanthropist and advocate for the military and veteran community,” says Kelly Finn Störmer, Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO), the organization assisting the selection process. “We are honored to partner with VetsAid to recommend high impact programs creating positive change for veterans and military families.”

Houston has the 2nd largest veteran population in the nation with over 250,000 veterans. Mr. Walsh will serve as the keynote speaker and Grand Marshal of the “Houston Salutes American Heroes Veterans Day Celebration” honoring the brave men, women and families who have fought and sacrificed for the nation’s liberty and freedom.

VetsAid 2019 will feature sets from ZZ Top, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and Joe Walsh and will take place at 5:30pm on Sunday, November 10, 2019, on the eve of Veterans Day, at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Tickets are on sale now at: www.toyotacenter.com.

Toby Keith and a veterans’ group teamed up to give a wounded Marine an all-terrain wheelchair

LinkedIn
Toby Keith and wounded Marine in his new wheelchair onstage during concert

Before Toby Keith took the stage for his concert in Pittsburgh, he had a special gift for retired Marine Corporal Brandon Rumbaugh.

While serving in Afghanistan in 2010, Rumbaugh was carrying a fellow Marine to safety when he stepped on an IED resulting in the loss of both his legs. After being fitted with a prosthetic he told CNN in 2012 that he worked hard for two years to beat the odds and walk again. Since then he has become a motivational speaker, sharing his story with others.

On Friday before the start of Keith’s show at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Rumbaugh was presented with an all-terrain wheelchair, courtesy of the country singer and a veterans’ nonprofit.

Rumbaugh told CNN affiliate WPXI he wanted this type of wheelchair because it will allow him be more active outdoors and play with his six-month-old daughter.

The Independence Fund, a nonprofit that assists wounded veterans, teamed up with Keith to give Rumbaugh the $16,000 wheelchair, along with backstage passes and a meet and greet with the singer.

As Rumbaugh was leaving the stage in his new wheelchair, the crowd started chanting “U-S-A!” The Marine enjoyed the concert from the side of the stage and even joined Keith onstage during his performance of “American Soldier.”

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Army Veteran Overcomes Near-Death Accident, Sets Goal for Gold

LinkedIn
Keith Murphy sitting in wheelchair smiling

From an early age, Texas native, Keith Murphy knew that joining the Army would be part of his life plan. As a Cub Scout, Boy Scout and later in the ROTC, being a soldier was always something he felt called to do. At 18 years old he fulfilled his childhood dream and enlisted.

By Caitlin Bishop

Murphy was in the Army for four years as a Sergeant, specializing in Infantry, Mortars—a field he truly enjoyed. He was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia before being deployed to Korea for one year where he met Brenda, a fellow soldier deployed with a different unit who would eventually become his wife. Once deployment ended, they each returned to Fort Polk, Louisiana, married soon after and moved back to Texas. The Murphys started a family together in Dallas where Keith went to work as a truck driver for many years.

On August 28, 2018, during a motorcycle ride on beautiful afternoon, Murphy’s life changed in an instant. While driving through an intersection, he was hit by a car making an illegal left turn. “The last thing I remember is being put into an ambulance and waking up in the hospital 8 days later,” he recalls. His injuries were extensive including seven broken ribs, a broken pelvis, hip, back, dislocated shoulder, collapsed lung and a severed left leg above the knee. Doctors attempted to save his leg at first, but due to the severity of the injury, Murphy’s wife, Brenda was left to make the difficult decision to amputate above the knee in an effort to save his life.

“After the accident, I remained in the hospital for six weeks and it was complete agony,” recounts Murphy. “I was unable to move, yet in excruciating pain, and needed spoon-feeding as well as help bathing. Those initial days and weeks were a very dark place for me.” By the sixth week Murphy was able to move off the hospital bed into a wheel chair and was released to go home on October 16, 2018.

Once home, Murphy’s outlook changed as he realized his recovery was in his own hands. “I knew I was hurt badly, but I was determined not to let my injuries or the actions of a reckless driver beat me,” he said. Murphy began wheel chairing up and down the walkway in his front yard and lifting 5-pound dumb bells in an effort to build back his strength. He had lost 50 pounds and significant muscle tone while in the hospital.

After being home for one month, Murphy decided to contactMurphy lifting weights at fitness center Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF), a non-profit organization he had heard of in his area that helps those with physical disabilities transform their lives through exercise and community. “I knew I needed to find people who went through what I went through,” he said. Murphy began going to ATF three days a week for stretching and conditioning in preparation for an upcoming nine-week program they offered with 11 other veterans that he wanted to be a part of.

Murphy started out doing simple exercises such as lifting an empty weight bar, doing push-ups and chin-ups. He worked diligently to tighten his core, arms and build back deteriorated muscle—crucial for his wheel chair use. He successfully joined ATF’s winter 2019 Redefine program and strived to push the limits of what he thought his body was capable of doing. Part of the program included a Lake Tahoe trip where the class was able to partake in mono-skiing—a highlight for the Texas native.

“At ATF, positivity is contagious and being around others who have endured similar injuries has been incredible for my mind, body and spirit,” says Murphy. “If you show up and put in the work, there’s no way to lose. Their team is determined to see you win.”

Murphy continues to push forward and embrace his new normal. He proudly got back on a motorcycle for the first time in January 2019 and has set his sights on a few other goals—running and walking again using a prosthetic with the long term goal of being a sled driver in the 2022 Paralympics for bobsledding.

One Warrior’s Illuminating Journey

LinkedIn
Michael Landry poses outside at sporting event

The future looks bright for this veteran entrepreneur, who miraculously regained his once lost eyesight.

By Annie Nelson

Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Michael J. Landry Jr. was returning from his 5th combat deployment as a Field Radio Operator when he received orders to Okinawa, Japan in August 2014. He underwent an eye exam and was told his vision had changed but not to worry.

However in Japan, Landry noticed his vision was getting worse—so much so that his optometrist thought he was exaggerating his condition. It was then he was told that both of his corneas were shattered and he was legally blind in both eyes.

I spoke with Landry about his amazing journey, from regaining his sight to competing in the Marine Corps Trials to starting his own lifestyle clothing and music businesses.

Tell me about your journey to being able to see again?

I was medically evacuated from Okinawa in March 2016 and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif. In Japan, I was still able to make out the outlines of objects because of the cloudy weather, but in California, I wasn’t able to see anything because it was so much brighter. I was fitted for hard-lens contacts until I received a corneal transplant in my left eye. The crazy thing was the eye transplant I received was originally blue! But then genetics took over and the eye eventually turned brown.

Due to my amazing doctor, the day after the surgery for the first time in two years, I was able to see the eye chart. Over the next 20 months, the vision in my left eye improved to the point that I was able to get prescription glasses, but only for the left lens because I was still blind in my right eye. Last February, I received the transplant for the right eye and today, I still have 12 stitches inside that eye but my vision overall is constantly improving.

You recently competed in the Marine Corps Trials—what events did you compete in and how did you finish? Are you going to the Warrior Games?

Yes, I competed in several events including track, shot put, discus, 100m sprint and powerlifting. For the powerlifting event, my doctor recommended to limit the weight because the excessive eye pressure could still cause damage. I was scheduled to run the 200m and 400m, but I pulled my hamstring during the 100m sprint. I ended up finishing first place in all events except powerlifting. I competed in the visually impaired category for field events, however, I did out throw every other competitor overall. I was also selected to compete in the Warrior Games and I’m looking forward to it.

What did the Marine Corps Trials teach you?

It taught me that I’m able to do more than I think. I’ve never competed in any of those sports before and it felt as if it came naturally. It also taught me that I need to learn to stretch better so I don’t get hurt!

You are a new entrepreneur. Tell me about your businesses and how you started?

The birth of One Life Clothing started when I was going blind. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t true so I began sewing with the thought that in order to sew, you have to be able to see. Going blind at the age of 32 forces you to see life in a different perspective. Tomorrow isn’t promised and you never know what can happen so you should always enjoy the “One Life” you have.

My second business I actually credit with saving my life. I was going through a lot mentally and physically with the loss of my sight and was severely depressed. At one point I was contemplating suicide until one day my brother, who is a rap artist, called me to vent about his music career, or lack thereof due to bad business deals. To help him, I started One Life Entertainment Music Group, LLC. Thus far, we’ve released four solo albums and two compilation albums.

My non-profit organization, One Life At A Time Outreach, helps not only feed the homeless, but also provide necessities like clothes, toiletries and shoes.

Michael Landry portrait with children Makiya and Michael III
Michael with children Makiya and Michael III

What does the future look like for you?

Bright I would say. Losing your vision and gaining it back is a blessing on its own, no matter what life throws at me. I’ve already won because I can see again. I’m embracing the new me. Business-wise, I would love to get into government contract designing and making uniforms as well as getting my clothing line into stores.

What advice would you give other service members who are recovering from an injury or illness?

You have to embrace the new you. I know what it feels like to be completely alone and to be stuck in your own head, but you have to remember that you are here for a purpose. God will never give you a task that you can’t handle. We are all gifted—find your gift and get out of your comfort zone.

Continue to follow Landry’s journey at onelifeclothing.net and on onelifemuzik.com

Veteran carries fellow Marine to Utah mountain summit: ‘We’re all a band of brothers’

LinkedIn
Veteran carrying his disabled Marine buddy on his back up a hill while hiking

When it comes to the U.S. Marines, one of their core beliefs is to leave no man behind.

That motto was on full display last week when retired Marine Sgt. John Nelson was caught on video carrying his friend and fellow Marine, Staff Sgt. Jonathon Blank, to the summit of Utah’s Mount Timpanogos.

Blank lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2010, with Nelson nearby when the blast occurred. The two, who served together on long-range reconnaissance missions, joined “Fox & Friends” Tuesday to detail the inspirational journey, which spanned 14 miles and 4,500 feet of elevation.

The sight of Nelson carrying Blank, who weighs about 135 pounds, on his back left two fellow hikers in awe and one shared the video on Facebook.

Phil Casper wrote, “They sought no special attention. The disabled vet said he weighed 135 lbs. They were committed to reach the summit. Having just exhausted myself to reach the summit with less than 5 lbs on my back, it was hard to fathom the drive that the pair possessed to achieve their goal.

To have arrived where I met them was already an incredible accomplishment. It was a powerful and inspiring experience to see them on their way.”

Continue on to Fox News to read the complete article.

Inside the Specially Adapted Home Wayfair Furnished for a Veteran with a Disability and His Family

LinkedIn
Disabled veteran and family stand outside their new home

When John and Brittany Curtin got married in 2015, they never dreamed they’d be living where they are today.

The couple met at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland back in 2011— Brittany was a volunteer with the Red Cross and John was in outpatient treatment for injuries he sustained while deployed in Afghanistan.

A Marine Lance Corporal, John joined the Marines at 19. He lost both of his legs and severely damaging his right arm when his foot triggered an IED one month into his deployment. He now gets around with the help of prosthetic legs or a wheelchair.

As difficult as John’s injuries were to adapt to, he and Brittany, both 29, live their lives today with incredible ease. For that, they thank two organizations: Homes For Our Troops and Wayfair, who have provided them with a specially-adapted — and fully furnished — home of their dreams, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

Homes For Our Troops is a non-profit organization that donates custom houses to veterans with disabilities, allowing them freedom in their homes as thanks for their service abroad. The organization teamed up with online furniture marketplace Wayfair to completely overhaul the Curtins’ home this past June, customizing it to both John’s accessibility needs and the pair’s personal style.

“We feel so unbelievably blessed,” Brittany tells PEOPLE of the experience. “Just for our day to day, our routine has entirely changed. Because John isn’t so taxed just doing small things, he’s able to do so much more both inside and outside the house.”

“It’s been an absolutely life changing experience,” John agrees. “It’s just transformed my life completely. When Brittany and I were first living in Virginia together we lived in a little 700-square-foot apartment, and we couldn’t even pass each other in the hallway because my wheelchair took up the whole space. So the ease of living is just unreal compared to those experiences.”

Not only is the 2,800-square-foot home and surrounding property entirely complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and wheelchair-accessible, but a variety of gadgets inside the home are designed to help John complete daily tasks with ease.

For example, extendable shelves in the kitchen and closets can be pulled down to be at John’s eye level, and a track chair in the backyard allows him to move around the property — which has paved and graded paths — and do yard work.

Continue on to People to read the complete article.

Patt Maney is DAV’s 2019 Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year

LinkedIn
Patt Maney pictured with his wife at his homecoming

Disabled American Veterans (DAV) veteran of the year honored for overcoming adversity, helping others find redemption.

By: Matt Saintsing

Patt Maney comes from a proud family tradition of military service stretching back to the French and Indian War, so his path to join the Army Reserve in 1971 was well laid before him.

What Maney couldn’t foresee, though, was the massive improvised explosive device blast that ripped through his armored vehicle in Afghanistan three decades later. And even less clear was the end point of the long, arduous path to recover from his injuries, including a broken nose, 27 cracked teeth, cartilage tears in both of his shoulders, sprained knees, nerve damage and a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

In 2005, about 50 miles outside of Kabul, Maney’s life changed in a literal flash. As an Army judge advocate general working as a political adviser to an Afghanistan Reconstruction Group, he was on a mission to find drinkable water when the explosion occurred.

“The blast went off immediately in front of the vehicle instead of under it,” said Maney. “We got blown into the air, then we fell down into the crater as we kept going forward.”

Though everyone survived the attack, Maney’s hard road to recovery was about to begin.

His most serious injury, the TBI, took away much of his cognitive abilities. A fellow soldier had to walk him on the plane out of Afghanistan, and while at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, his wife Caroline often had to lead him around by hand.

“He became a 56-year-old 6-year-old, and I had to learn how to deal with him and help him,” Caroline said. “I was his full-time caregiver, and he needed assistance daily to get him from place to place.”

A veil of uncertainty shrouded Maney’s recovery, and his and Caroline’s future. Would he be able to return to the bench as a judge? Could he ever work again? These questions and others wouldn’t be answered until after dozens of hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions, a treatment that forces blood to absorb more oxygen.

The results were astounding. Maney noticed a difference after a few weeks. “One of my doctors said, ‘You’re speaking in full sentences, and you’re maintaining eye contact,” recalled Maney.

After a regimen of therapy sessions, multiple surgeries and 80 hyperbaric oxygen dives, Maney retired in 2007 as a brigadier general from the Army Reserve. His work with helping veterans, however, was just getting started.

Maney first contacted DAV at Walter Reed in 2006, while going through a Medical Evaluation Board. The Army had found him unfit for duty but concluded he had no long-term disabilities.

“DAV took it from ‘you’re out of the Army; have a nice day’ to ‘you’re out of the Army, but you’re going to receive disability compensation,'” said Maney, adding he joined DAV out of gratitude.

Maney returned to the bench in Okaloosa County, Fla., with a new sense of compassion for what veterans have gone through. “I learned firsthand how injuries could burden a veteran and their transition,” he said. “There needed to be a system to meet the unique needs of justice involving veterans whose illegal conduct can be related to military service.”

In 2011, he started the county’s Mental Health and Veterans Treatment Court, the first in the state.

Todd Blackburn, an Army Ranger made famous by the book and movie “Black Hawk Down,” understands more than most how the program can help. At a dark moment in his life, while self-medicating his service-connected injuries, he was involved in an altercation that landed him before Maney’s Veterans Treatment Court.

“I was able to clear my record up and find the help that I finally needed with the VA,” said Blackburn. “Veterans Treatment Court gave me a huge second chance, and it’s all because of Judge Maney.”

Judge Angela Mason, a mentee of Maney’s who now presides over the same Veterans Treatment Court, said his impact is immeasurable to both the community and the individual veterans who go through the program.

armored vehicle Afghanistan
2005 improvised explosive device blast that ripped through his armored vehicle in Afghanistan

“Veterans have chosen to serve this country to risk their lives for this country and often come back with injuries that you don’t get in any other line of work, both physical and invisible,” she said. “The court system is not only to punish, but it’s also to rehabilitate and to help people.”

And it’s been working exceptionally well. According to Mason, the program has a 13% recidivism rate, less than half of the 30% rate in Okaloosa County documented in a 2018 Florida Department of Corrections report. To date, more than 30 counties in Florida have adopted a Veterans Treatment Court. The Florida statute establishing a Veterans Treatment Court system statewide is named after Maney, as is the street around the Okaloosa County courthouse.

Maney also finds and fosters community wherever he goes. He pushed for the establishment of a Department of Veterans Affairs Vet Center in Okaloosa County, helping hundreds of veterans each year with counseling and other rehabilitative services since 2011. He also spearheaded the Homeless Veteran Stand Down, an annual community-driven event that began in 2007, which has helped 1,200 homeless veterans to date in Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“This would be an impressive body of work for any individual,” said National Commander Dennis Nixon. “But what makes Judge Maney so exceptional is that this was all done after 20 intense months of healing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He used his own experiences and challenges to fuel his advocacy work for other veterans, and that’s what sets him apart.”

As an additional tribute to local veterans, Maney acquired the bell from the USS Okaloosa, a World War II-era ship named after the county, and a Huey helicopter to honor those who served in Vietnam. Both are on display at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.

He officially retired from the bench last year. At 71, he shows no signs of slowing down.

“You can feel the compassion that he has for his fellow veterans,” said DAV’s Department of Florida Adjutant Andy Marshall, who nominated Maney for the 2019 Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year award. “It’s great to have someone who is highly regarded, and a leader in the community, to be a member of the DAV.”

What motivates Maney to keep giving back to the veteran community and help others continually?

According to Caroline, it’s about those he’s able to give back to.

“He just loves helping people,” she added.

Source: DAV Magazine