Do you know a veteran or a family of a veteran who could use some help? Share their stories & by all means let them know about Higher Ground.
For this post, I'd like to share a chapter from my book describing how Higher Ground, one of 21 Dream Nonprofits featured helps wounded warriors reach their dreams as they recover from the trauma & physical injuries of war.
Julio and Maria
Two years after graduating high school, Julio lacked direction in his life. He felt trapped. He saw no opportunities on the horizon in his home of Puerto Rico. After much searching, Julio found a career with plenty of room for advancement—one which would bring financial stability for his family, & provide opportunities for higher education. At the age of twenty, Julio enlisted in the United States Army.
During his first years of active duty, Julio enjoyed the path he had chosen. He had a secure job with great benefits. He, along with his young family, enjoyed visiting parts of the world they might never have had the chance to see. Eventually Julio received orders; he was being deployed to Iraq. While nervous & hesitant to leave his wife & baby daughter, Julio felt honored to have the opportunity to serve his country.
While in Iraq, Julio was exposed to multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Like most soldiers, he simply pulled himself up by his bootstraps & moved forward. He ignored the chronic headaches & grogginess he was feeling. Then, while mounted atop a Humvee in Fallujah, Julio’s unit was ambushed. Julio was shot through the right eye by a sniper. The gunshot & blast exposures resulted in multiple cranial fractures, & a detached retina in his left eye.
When he returned stateside, Julio awoke from a coma & discovered he had lost 90% of his vision, & suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Julio also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reliving his battle experiences daily. He found himself on ‘edge’ in public & dependant on others for care. Julio felt distant from his wife, & unable to handle the anxiety brought on by his three young children.
With a three-year-old daughter, a new set of twin girls, & a severely disabled husband, Maria was overwhelmed by grief, exhausted by the task of being her husband’s caretaker & trying to run a household. Her challenges seemed insurmountable. She felt guilty leaving her husband’s side for even a moment, fearful that he might experience further harm. Julio was going through the medical board process. Although confident he would eventually receive his full pay & benefits, in the meantime, Julio received only a portion of his active duty pay.
While going through treatment at the VA hospital, Julio’s caseworker told him about the—Sun Valley Adaptive SportsProgram in Idaho—called Higher Ground (HG). Julio made contact with a Recreational Therapist on the HG team, & quickly developed a new friendship. Julio felt excited for the first time since his injury. He applied to a couple’s snow sports camp because neither he nor Maria had ever seen snow. Here was a chance for adventure. It would be a place to once again feel a sense of camaraderie with other veterans. This was a way for his wife to find the support of other spouses. They both could receive the individual attention of a team of therapists to teach them coping strategies.
When asked what motivated him to join HG Julio replied, “I was a lifelong surfer before my injury, now I’m not able to even get in the ocean by myself. I think about it constantly. Learning to snowboard will prove to me that I’m still capable; it will show my wife she doesn’t have to always be watching over me.” In response to the same question, Maria replied, “I just want to see my husband smile again.”
Julio’s first day on the mountain taught him that he had grossly underestimated his potential. To the amazement of his instructor, he was making full runs—snowboarding from the top to the bottom of the mountain. Maria’s joy came from seeing what her husband could do independently. The staff of HG gained her confidence. For the first time in years, she was able to leave Julio’s side without anxiety. “I left Julio to go out & do something fantastic…it was the first time in years I was able to let him go; to let him be who he was before his injuries.” Maria grew increasingly comfortable at camp leaving Julio on his own.
In group therapy sessions Maria learned how to cope with her husband’s hardships. She also gained new insight into Julio’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Most importantly, Maria learned that Julio was capable of being an independent man.
Before leaving, Julio thanked the HG staff, saying, “I’m going home with new confidence, but more importantly my wife has been able to be herself & not worry about me constantly.” As part of the HG program, the couple came up with a goal they wished to accomplish in the next year. Julio proudly stood in front of his new unit & announced that within one year he & his Maria would have a proper wedding in front of her family in the church she once attended in the Dominican Republic.
Julio decided it was time to be proactive in his recovery & applied to a blind rehabilitation center. Six months after joining the HG family, Julio called the staff. He was so excited that he could barely contain himself. “I just got back from seeing Maria & the kids. No one came to pick me up! I left the hospital, went to the train station, walked to the house, & surprised Maria at the door. I DID IT ALL BY MYSELF!” The HG staff was brought to tears when Julio said, “You have heard of the snowball effect? I believe that sometimes that snowball can defy gravity & gain momentum & mass as it rolls uphill. My snowball started on top of a mountain in Idaho, followed me home to Florida, through blind rehab, & will be with me when I stand next to my wife at the altar.”
This true story is only one of many that the team at Higher Ground proudly shares. HG is now recognized as a leader in their industry from the Department of Defense, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Department of Excellence, & a host of military & VA medical installations nationwide. In their holistic approach to rehabilitation, HG provides therapy & support to those caring for wounded veterans. HG offers: the longest follow up program in the industry; daily therapeutic themes that provide the tools necessary to find success in life; resources nationally & in their home community; referrals to programs meeting medical, educational, familial, & social needs; a reintegration budget to continue the momentum at home; &, access to these services 100% cost free to the veterans & their supporters. In addition, HG staff conducts research with major universities assessing the efficacy of their techniques. They also present at conferences & seminars nationwide teaching others how to conduct effective therapeutic recreation programs.It’s the dream of the HG staff to improve the quality of care provided to American heroes nationwide!
To support their dream you can purchase The Wake Up And Dream Challenge at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-wake-up-and-dream-challenge/18745116 Half the profits will go to Higher Ground supporting our recovering veterans.