Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Government May Not Care About Our Disabled Veterans... But We the People Do!!

Marine Corps Capt. Sarah Bettencourt, 29, was just days away from being designated a naval aviator when she developed a rare neurological disorder in 2008. Despite her disability, she bravely continued to serve in the Marines until symptoms ended her career in 2012. Sarah, who retired with a 100 percent disability rating, now struggles at home with day-to-day tasks due to severe problems with her central nervous system. 

And of course she is not alone. More than 2.2 million American veterans like Sarah were seriously injured at some point while serving in the military, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Among the center's troubling findings: Veterans who suffered major service-related injuries are less likely in later life to be in overall good health or to hold full-time jobs.

The survey also found that severely disabled veterans are almost three times as likely as other veterans to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which as I recently reported in The Daily Beast afflicts at least one in three veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But perhaps the most distressing stat' from the Pew survey is that more than half of all veterans like Sarah who were badly injured while serving their country say the government has not given them the assistance they need and deserve. Thankfully, there are people out there who refuse to stand idly by and let our disabled veterans needlessly suffer. 

One of those people is Paul Sullivan, managing director of veterans outreach at Bergmann and Moore, an East Coast law firm that exclusively assists veterans who have a disability claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and former head of Veterans for Common Senseonce worked for VA. He is easily the most dedicated and effective advocate for veterans that I have known.

Another champion for veterans is Sean Sheppardwho in 2000 founded a philanthropic non-profit organization called Embrace which focuses on bringing diverse groups of people together for social wellness projects. Sheppard, who's already done great work for veterans, announced this week that his organization will provide Sarah and her husband, a Navy Lieutenant helicopter pilot currently stationed on NAS North Island in San Diego, with a complete home makeover. 

As part of its “Healing our Heroes’ Homes” H3 program, Embrace will remodel the military couple's kitchen and bathroom, build ADA compliant disability ramps, widen the driveway to ADA standards, widen doorways, and provide landscaping.

Sarah tells The Reno Dispatch that the project is "going to give me and my husband our lives back. It's the basic things like building a ramp so I can get into my house that seem so small, yet will make such a difference in my daily routine. I'm looking forward to getting my independence back and contributing to my home, my community and society." 

Embrace founder Sheppard, who I'm proud to say is a fellow graduate of San Diego State University, says that when the organization reviewed Sarah’s application for the H3 program and subsequently met Sarah and her husband in person, he knew she was the perfect beneficiary for the program because of her personality and story. 

"Sarah is a strong, charismatic, positive individual who enjoys life and takes her disability head on," says Sheppard. "Everyone affiliated with Embrace is honored to be able to help them."

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