Wounded Warriors Find Independence in Recovery
By Alex Balbir, Wounded Warrior Project
Independence Services and Warrior Care Network Director
Independence Day is a time for us to celebrate the birth of our nation, as much as it is to express our deepest gratitude for the sacrifices paid by our heroes on land, sea, and air to defend our rights.
Just as the lure of independence and personal freedom inspired our founding fathers to fight for the right to live life as they saw fit, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) strives to impart that same confident, independent thought process when it comes to warriors’ recovery. We stand ready to help veterans of this generation adapt to their new mission of living a fulfilling life.
Warriors’ new missions of recovery call for just as much dedication, drive, and endurance as the endeavors these brave souls undertook during their military service. Some people only need a slight push in the right direction to successfully transition back to civilian life and careers.
When given a chance and the right mental and physical recovery tools and techniques, warriors can achieve their independence goals. WWP encourages all sorts of activities for warrior recovery, including creative events, as well as participation in adaptive sports such as biking, basketball, hockey, and skiing.
While willing to take on physical activities and adaptive sports as part of achieving independence in recovery, some of the most seriously injured warriors cannot. In many cases, warriors must relearn how to move muscles and how to communicate. They require a more detailed plan of action to find their personal path to recovery — something they can do through WWP’s Independence Program.
Independence Program Shines Light on Path to Recovery
WWP’s Independence Program helps warriors suffering from spinal cord injury, neurological conditions, or moderate to severe brain injury by developing an individualized recovery plan that works for them, their caregivers, and their families. The program pairs severely injured veterans with specialists who ease them back into the community and help them relearn essential life skills.
We recognize that every journey is different, and every warrior has a positive future to look forward to.
The story of one warrior’s determined journey toward independence comes to mind as a shining example. I would like to share Erik and his family’s story of sacrifice and courage with you for inspiration on our country’s 242nd birthday.
Loving Family Support
Erik Schei is a true patriot. When his fellow combat engineers needed someone to man the .50 Cal to protect them during a road repair mission in Iraq, Erik took up his position atop the Humvee.
The attack on his crew was short, with only one shot from a sniper’s rifle hitting Erik in his head. Barely alive, he was stabilized and flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Maryland, where his parents, Christine and Gordon, were faced with life-altering decisions about Erik’s future and their own.
The doctors saw little hope of recovery because of the extent of Erik’s brain injuries and advised the family he would need constant help and support. The Schei family bravely took on the care of their gravely injured loved one without hesitation.
They did everything they could to take care of their son back home in New Mexico, sacrificing careers, time, and money. It was a daunting task, and although they had their son back, it slowly became apparent to them that Erik would never be the same man as he once was before the war.
Erik is limited in his ability to move and speak. He relies on his mother and father as caregivers to help with essential functions, including eating and getting dressed.
Finding Peace Through Independence
When Erik was still a patient at WRAMC, the Schei family found help and support through WWP. Christine took part in a WWP caregiver event with family members of other wounded veterans. There, she gained insight and perspective about her role in helping Erik. Also, the gathering gave her a place where she could share her fears and worries with other caregivers in similar situations.
She learned about WWP’s Independence Program and enrolled Erik. Each week, he received several hours of physical therapy to help regain movement in his arms.
Erik also has spent time with other veterans, bonding at events like Soldier Ride® — a multi-day adaptive cycling event. His younger brother, Deven, also a combat-injured veteran, helped Erik ride on a special tandem bike.
Christine not only takes care of her heroic son, but is active in urging decision-makers in Washington, DC, to support caregiver legislation. She joined 18 other women who spent a day telling their stories on Capitol Hill to push support for the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which gives financial and other assistance to caregivers of severely wounded veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.
This Independence Day, please join me in saluting veterans, first responders, and caregivers who have endured years of therapy, which testifies to the determination displayed on the road to recovery and independence.
When the first wounded returned home from the current military conflicts, our founders were inspired to help, and for the past 15 years, we have been dedicated in our mission to honor and empower Wounded Warriors.
Our organization was established on the principle of one warrior helping another – just look at our logo. And while not everyone can serve, everyone can support brave warriors like Erik, who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but now live with physical and mental wounds of war.
Once these warriors are carried off the battlefield, it is our responsibility to carry them the rest of the way home, ensuring they accomplish every success in life they desire and deserve. That’s the best way to honor heroes who gave their lives in battle – to support those who made it home and help them live their best lives.
We are here to help.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition.
WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), top rated by Charity Navigator, and holding a GuideStar Platinum rating.
To get involved and learn how WWP connects, serves, and empowers,