When injured veterans returning to their homes from Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t finding the help they needed, one Northshore resident set out to correct the problem.
When Northshore resident Suzy McDaniel went on vacation with her husband, neither of them expected that she would be in a horseback riding accident. Nor did they imagine that the rehab from that incident would lead to the creation of an organization which would help men and women serving our country thousands of miles away.
“In the rehab, there was another guy rehabbing in very close proximity to me, but he was like a stroke victim and he was severely deformed in his face,” McDaniel explained when we visited with her recently.
“He was missing half of his face, and I kept thinking what could have happened to him. He couldn’t hold his head up, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk. And I just kept thinking: 'what could have happened to him, was it a chemical accident?' His face was almost melted away. The girl that was working with him was also working with me, and she said he was in a roadside bombing in Iraq."
McDaniel says this happened not long after 9/11.
"It just hit me like a ton of bricks," she says. "It was like, wait a minute, this is a guy who’s probably 20 years younger than I am, and he’s made this sacrifice — he probably had no idea this was going to happen to him.".
McDaniel was so moved by the young soldier she met that she became determined to help him and those with similar experiences.
“So I kind of got to know him, but I was very moved by him and touched by him and his spirit," she says. "I just didn’t know what to do — here I am married, I’ve got three kids, I’m in a wonderful relationship, a wonderful husband. So I started going to church every day, and I’d just go to church, by myself, spend some time there and ask God to help me deal with this. 'What am I going to do, what can we do?' All you can really do is make sure that he and guys like him never want or need anything in their life.”
The result of McDaniel’s introspection was Support Our War Heroes, a Northshore non-profit dedicated to helping wounded veterans. The group provides a variety of services to those it serves, from paying uncovered medical expenses to awarding scholarships to the children of vets killed in action.
“The mission of Support Our War Heroes is to assist military members from any branch of the service who sustain life-altering injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan, McDaniel explains. "It’s a fairly specific mission. We help them in four ways: one is through our advocacy program; then we also have the grant program; the scholarship programs; and then our fourth thing that we do is we vow to never forget their sacrifice, to always honor them for the sacrifices that they’ve made.”
Support Our War Heroes is all volunteer and non-political. McDaniel says that, combined with a regional approach, is what eliminates red tape and allows them to provide help quickly.
“I kind of think the board likes the idea of it staying sort of a regional, closer held organization. For instance, there’s no bureaucracy involved in our group. If you come to us and you’re really having a problem and you need a quick turnaround and answers, some money, we can usually get that for one of our heroes in a week,” McDaniel says.
McDaniel explains that one of the biggest challenges her group faces in connecting with the vets who need their help is actually finding them.
“So when somebody comes to us and says ‘I need help,’ we’ve never really heard the same story twice; it’s always very unique. We can always find out when a local person has been killed in action, because his name is in the paper. So, we will frequently call that family, after an appropriate amount of time, and just tell them what we do and offer services to them, anything we can do: the scholarship program for the children, anything we can do," she says.
"So, we know about the ones who are killed in action. But the ones who are injured, it’s a privacy issue, so those names don’t usually appear in the newspaper," McDaniel says.
"So it has been more difficult, but we work through family services in the military. We’ve been to their offices and we’ve worked with them. I’ve actually been up to Walter Reed Hospital; we’ve gotten some referrals from there. But also just from being on the radio, and because people know of the organization, they know of the severity of the injuries that the guys we help have received. And when they know of somebody with that kind of injury they frequently refer them to us.”
Northshore Focus is made possible with the support of the Northshore Community Foundation.