After an unusually cold winter, Beaufort experienced an unusually warm day.  Ironic how this brought an unusually strong desire for a cold beer. So while running some errands downtown I stopped in at Panini’s, a local eatery on Bay Street that’s a popular hangout for many of the pilots and their wives from the air station.

Nick, the owner, was busy but he had a few minutes to chat about Main Street Beaufort’s 16th Annual Shrimp Fest and the Lt. Dan Weekend and concert featuring Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.  Nick, a smart businessman, asked a question I think many people wonder: why do you have to raise money to help wounded vets in the first place? Isn’t that something that the Veterans’ Administration handles?

Probably the best way to answer that question here is to highlight a rather typical story of a service member whom the Independence Fund has assisted; (although it’s hard to call them typical when all of these men and women are so exceptional in so many ways).  Sgt. Ryan Major was profiled in a Fox News story when he became our 10th recipient of a $25,000 robotic wheel-chair from the Independence Fund. (The story can be viewed under the “mission” tab on the website).

Ryan, who is still on active duty, was an infantry squad leader serving in Ramadi, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated underneath him while on foot patrol.  His injuries were severe.  Ryan lost both legs, suffered extensive damage to both arms and amputation of numerous fingers, and a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury.  In the two years since he was injured, he’s undergone more than 40 surgeries and non-stop physical therapy.

Ryan is an exceptionally driven young man, though, and his recovery has been remarkable.  Already, he has been accepted to University and plans to attend this fall after he is discharged from the Army.

Several non-governmental factors have contributed to Ryan’s successful recovery.  First,  his mother.  Ryan’s mother, Lorrie, comes from a nursing background and has been an active part of the decision making in Ryan’s recovery plan. She is his full-time caregiver and his fulltime advocate as well.  Without Lorrie, Ryan’s recovery would have looked completely different.  But it came with enormous sacrifice on her part.  Like many moms, Lorrie put Ryan first and set aside a well-paying career to do this for her son.

Second, residing in Silver Spring Maryland, a short distance from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he has received most of his post-injury care, allowed Ryan and his family to be deeply involved in his treatment plan.  Also, two stellar institutions nearby – the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center and the National Rehabilitation Hospital, located in Washington, DC, provided additional world class post-injury care that Walter Reed could not. Although it’s hard to call someone with Ryan’s injuries fortunate, few other severely wounded service members have had their family and hometown support network so close by, and it certainly made a difference.

Third, outside help from the non-profit community has been instrumental.  Aside from the $25,000 wheelchair provided by the Independence Fund, we helped Paws-4-Liberty to place a service dog with the family.  A well trained service dog can cost anywhere from $25,000-$40,000 to train, plus the hotel and travel expenses for the actual placement, which can last up to a week.  It was worth it though.  According to Lorrie, Ryan, who used to call for assistance in the middle of every night, now sleeps restfully because of the dog’s presence.  “He feels safe, and the dog has been wonderful, “ she said.

Because of Ryan’s injuries, the family’s home needed extensive remodeling.  There are VA grants for this type service but they are capped at $50,000 and are one-time only.  Not much help to a service member who, like most twenty-something year olds, will be moving at some point in his future, or who, like in Ryan’s case, needed renovations that cost more than $100,000.  In this instance, the non-profit organization Rebuilding Together stepped in and provided the renovations.  And because Ryan was injured inside Anbar Province, the Area of Operations controlled by the Marine Corps, we were even able to facilitate another non-profit, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, to provide Ryan with a $25,000 pick-up truck that was specially adapted for his use, giving him even greater independence.

So, getting back to Nick’s original question: There is a demonstrated need for the services provided by the legitimate non-profits that are helping service members like Ryan and their families.  When factoring in the loss of income that Ryan’s mother has experienced because she became her son’s full-time advocate and caregiver, more than a half-million dollars in goods or services has been allocated for this one soldier that the government has not, or will not, provide.  And that is why real support is still needed.

“How can I help?” Nick asked.

“Can you pick a slow night when you will donate 20% of the restaurant’s proceeds to support the troops coming in for the Lt. Dan Weekend / Shrimp Festival?” I asked.

Nick paused, and then he literally knocked my socks off. “Let’s do it this Memorial Day, May 31st, and I will see if I can get all the restaurants along Bay Street to do the same.”

Wow, Beaufort.  Now that’s Real Support.


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