A Veterans Thanks for Veterans Day

This Veterans Day, I wish to thank all of you who contributed directly and indirectly in the lives of us Veterans. Never has so many set aside personal ideologies to support those few individuals who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines. You all displayed your support whether through donations to military and veteran service organizations, volunteering at VA medical centers, assembling care packages for those deployed, placing yellow ribbons on your cars and houses, turning on the Walmart sponsored green lights, lending a moment of your day to reflect in silence, and the countless other ways. While you might say there is no way to thank one for their service, I believe there is no way us Veterans can truly express our sincere gratitude in return. You might feel the need to thank us for serving our country, but we only serve our country because people like you give us reason to believe defending our country is worth the risk and personal sacrifices.

The remainder of this post hopes to demonstrate my sincere gratitude to those who demonstrated the values of selfless sacrifice, courage, integrity, honor, trustworthiness, and loyalty. Through these different expressed values, you impacted my life during times of growth, learning, depression, anger, sadness, happiness, transition, and transformation. I am not including the names of any individuals and group many together in an effort to give each of you your privacy.

From the day of my commissioning, to the first duty station, to waiving goodbye prior to being deployed, to answering my calls while deployed, to being there from the first days in the hospital, to being there during the darkest days of recovery, to being there and giving up personal independence to enhance my independence, to having to drastically alter life’s goals, to this very day, no individuals have sacrificed more and deserve my never ending thanks and respect than my wife, parents, brother, in-laws, uncle, aunts, and grandmother. I understand and owe you all each an apology for not expanding into greater detail on what you all being there for me truly means to me. I truly do think about what each of you have done for me on a daily basis, but as this is a public post, I do not feel comfortable going into detail.

One person who will not realize the impact she has had on my life and helps me find hope is my daughter. Due to this, I wish to one day tell her thank you for being the catalyst I am able to embrace the future.

Throughout my military career, I had the privilege and honor to learn and receive countless opportunities forging me into the officer and now Veteran I am today. This started with the cadre at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse ROTC department. Our PMS managed to look beyond the cadet with horrid grades and see something more. Our NCO’s saw us as both college students with a lot to learn and as the future officers we were to become to deal with my immaturity in a manner allowing us to become more than just adults, but leaders. Most importantly, the secretaries and staff used their countless years of experience watching cohort after cohort process through to give us the pointers in order to be successful when talking with everyone.

An aspect of military service many civilians are in awe of stems from the bonds forged. As a Veteran four years removed from Active Duty, thank you to those of you I had the honor of serving with. Its amazing to feel the bond with those I have not talked to in many years to immediately pick up a conversation from long ago to those we keep crossing paths serendipitously. In particular, each of my commanders who bestowed tremendous amounts of faith by placing me in a certain leadership position to those who felt my disability did not define my ability to serve but focused on my capabilities. Thank you to those who placed an enormous amount of trust in me as their leader, for I might not always knew what I might have been doing each of you practiced patience and instructed me on how to improve my leadership styles and communication methods.

Thank you to the doctors, nurses, physicians, pilots, medics, and many other medical professionals who handled my care and spent much of their own time explaining to my family and I about my condition and prognosis. Its your care and extra time personalizing every visit, creating rapport rapport.

Thank you to the blind rehab specialists and social workers in the Department of Veterans Affairs Blind Rehab Services for enabling me to explore and create my own meaning related to blindness. Thank you to the OIF/OEF/OND Case Manager at the VA for always being there and wiling to listen to my problems and opening pathways for care. Thank you to the several Army Wounded warrior advocates who informed me about the Army Wounded Warrior Education Initiative and who allow me the time to engage in a variety of conversations related to me as a case study and a fellow social worker.

A pivotal piece of my growth towards self affirmation as someone with a visual impairment who once served in the US military and now seeks new identities and meanings in life occurred at the University of Kansas. My ability to accomplish this transformation is owed to numerous individuals starting with a couple I am proud to call my friends, family, and role models, whose lessons in class and in practice continues to make an impact on my life. Thank you to my two advisors from the School of Social Welfare and Therapeutic Sciences programs. Both of you always kept an open door and mind when dealing with a sometimes frantic and sometimes absent minded student. These experiences would not even have been possible without the efforts of those who advocated for the Army Wounded Warrior Education Initiative, KU Wounded Warrior Scholarship, KU Veterans Alumni Network, and Graduate Military Programs. These individuals know first hand the importance education and opportunities for one to find new meaning in life represent the most instrumental pieces in transitioning Veteran’s life.

As iron clad bonds develop in military service, I have been fortunate to experience the same with numerous Veterans through my involvement with several organizations. Each of these individuals I view as my mentor and has helped me understand what it means to be a Veteran, to serve our fellow Veterans, how to advocate on the behalf of Veterans, and the importance disability rights is to us Veterans. Many of you I am in almost daily contact with, and others left a mark upon me after just one meeting. I wish to say thank you for bestowing your knowledge and experiences on this Veteran, for without the lessons you learned in your own paths, I would not be the person I am today. On this note, a special thanks is owed to all of the WWII Veterans, Korean War Veterans, Vietnam Veterans, Desert Storm/Shield Veterans, and all of the times of war and peace between these periods who fought to ensure my generation did not return home to the turmoil and environments lacking in transitioning services and entitlements as you did.

This final section will differ from above as I will make special mention to several organizations. Like above, this is in no particular order based on merit or value. Those organizations listed receive my full endorsement as an organization I have found to be very beneficial and deserves your attention.

The Fisher House

No other organization provided more services to our Service Members and Veterans requiring care at DoD and VA Medical Centers than the Fisher House. It is here my family stayed while I was at Walter Reid. Its here, my family and I ate our first Thanksgiving dinner two week after being injured. Its here families stay as their loved ones receive medical treatment, rehab, and other interventions.

KAMO Adventures

The first time I ever went hunting occurred after going blind thanks to KAMO Adventures. However, the impact they made does not end with a simple excursion. KAMO is an all volunteer non-profit who care more about ensuring Veterans have the resources and opportunities to succeed in their goals ranging from outdoors hobbies, educational pursuits, and employment. I owe KAMO a debt of gratitude for more than assisting me score three turkeys, but also for my scholarship enabling me to obtain much needed accommodations, services, and extra assistance.me the chance to

KU Wounded Warrior Scholarship

My history with the University of Kansas started with the forerunner of the Wounded Warrior Scholarship. After the Army canceled the Army Wounded Warrior Education Initiative, those who advocated for the partnership felt the urge to retain a program for wounded Veterans to obtain a quality education. The Wounded Warrior Scholarship birth from these ashes, funding everything from undergraduate degrees to PhDs at the University of Kansas for us disabled Veterans, our caregivers, and the surviving dependents of those who gave their lives for our country.

America’s Vet Dogs

Thanking only America’s Vet Dogs and the Guide Dog Foundation would be short sighted. While they trained Black Jack and trained me on how to use Black Jack, each service dog requires an extensive network of volunteers, donors, and advocates to produce each dog. Receiving Black Jack felt just like the first time I rode a bike independently, drove a car, and first used a white cane. The only difference is I receive this same feeling each time we harness up and head out. The gift of freedom and independence can never be repaid by a thank you, but that is the extend of a blog post.

Sentinels of Freedom

Though I never used SoF, this collection of Veterans and mentors have assisted numerous friends of mine complete their post-secondary degree programs and find employment. Its for this reason I list them, and in hopes some of you might consider helping SoF.

American Foundation for the Blind

AFB appears here for more than their educational and outreach efforts for the blind, but for what they mean for me related to my future. One of my goals involves submitting research articles to AFB for their publication consideration. The AFB is the epitome of scientific inquiry into blindness related topics, and represents my primary goal for PhD efforts.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Despite the negative coverage the VA received over recent years, the VA offers Veterans the best care and services. When we look at primary factors assisting one overcome disabilities or barriers, peer support groups impact lives more effectively than medication and therapies. The VA offers us Veterans a place to find those like ourselves. Secondly, the best blind rehab system is not found in private industry but in the VA. Blind rehab as we know it today started at the VA with a group of blinded Veterans working together with researchers, and the legacy continues today. Finally, if you are looking for a place to donate for a Veterans cause where thanks to public law 100% of all proceeds must benefit a Veteran, the VA, through volunteer services at each VA medical center ways could use your assistance.

Blinded Veterans Association
Finally, a thanks goes out to several of the members of the BVA for serving as my mentors and helping find a niche in assisting my fellow blinded Veterans. The highlight of each week for me comes from numerous opportunities and teleconferences where I know I am able to make an impact in the life of one of my peers.

Finally, to all of you, thank you for your support then, and continue support to this day.