Wounded veterans returning home often have a rough time reintegrating back into society. Their injuries, depending on their severity, can limit the kind of work they can do and the type of job they can get. There are 4.7 million veterans with some kind of service-connected disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 29 percent of those men and women have a disability rating from the Veterans Administration or Department of Defense of 30 percent or lower. They are more likely to be employed than the more than 42 percent of them having a disability rating of 60 percent or higher. These more severely disabled veterans often require continued care and treatment, taxing their spouses and caregivers, and imparting what for many is a backbreaking financial burden. Many are unable to return to the type of work they were doing prior to their service and need to learn new skills.

Transitional Challenges

All veterans face challenges when returning to civilian life, but wounded veterans often confront unique circumstances in their bid for employment and readjustment into society. “When a veteran transitions — without being physically wounded — the perfect picture for them, or the end goal, is for them to be able to get credit for some of the skills they gained with some of the incredible training they got in the military, and turn that into a career,” according to Donny Daughenbaugh, vice president of Field Operations and the national spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. “By no means are all wounded veterans broken, but some of them face a lot of limitations. And with those limitations, it requires support from their caregiver, from their children, from family members, from other people. And so, it isn’t impossible, but there are a lot more hurdles that they have to go through. Within two or three years, you kind of see what the pattern is going to look like for them,” says Daughenbaugh. That pattern, especially for veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury, is often one of cycling in and out of inpatient programs. According to Daughenbaugh, if they are in one of those programs longer than 45 days, VA payables stop. “And when the pay stops,” adds Daughenbaugh, “everything gets put on hold and there’s really not much in the way of supplemental income for someone who is going through this program they need.”

Heroes Thanking Heroes

The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes was started in 2004 to help with the financial needs of wounded veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. “In order to help address the continuing unemployment problem among veterans, the Coalition works closely with national corporations and other organizations to provide the tools and assistance to veterans seeking employment,” says the organization’s website. Since its founding, it has evolved into a service that provides emergency financial support and flexible employment for either the veteran, their caregiver, or their spouse. Daughenbaugh tells WorkingNation that the group’s internal jobs program, Heroes Thanking Heroes, has become a way of sustaining the family, by becoming an important source of income and training for veterans and those closest to them. This sprang from the knowledge that many caregivers or spouses were leaving their jobs to provide full-time care for wounded veterans but weren’t being compensated for it. “Very early on we had a program director that asked what if we hired veterans or their spouses or caregivers and we gave them these lists of donors that support the work we do and a loose script, and we gave them the ability to call and thank our donors. It’s a virtual call center,” Daughenbaugh says. “So, it’s morphed into so much more than just calling to say thank you. The backbone of the program is that these caregivers and spouses and in some case veterans — there are nine veterans in the program and the rest of the 41 are caregivers or spouses — they call our donors and just say ‘thank you’ and tell our donors what it means for them to be employed, but also what the donations that they’re giving do for the families they were helping. It is their job.” Daughenbaugh points out that the number of hours per month of employment is based on need. “The minimum is ten hours, the maximum is 60 and, in some cases, it goes up to 100 hours per month. And really if it’s beyond that ten hours, the average is about 30. So, if the family is forecasting their financial needs are greater than if they work 30 hours they can request to work 50 or 60 hours.” “And it’s really a win-win for the Coalition because we have someone that’s committed to thanking our donors, but we also have this family that is earning the income,” he adds. “It isn’t a handout, it isn’t financial assistance, it’s them kind of doing it for themselves, which is a beautiful thing.” To date over 230 veterans, spouses or caregivers have participated in Heroes Thanking Heroes and over 2.5 million “thank you” calls have been completed.

The ”Best, Worst Thing”

Daughenbaugh’s own story of getting involved with the Coalition is a harrowing one that starts with his time as a Marine in Falluja, Iraq. “I was doing a search of a guy’s car one night. He didn’t want me to search his car, so he pulled out an AK-47 and shot me in the face. The bullet entered through my cheek and today the bullet is up inside the base of my brain. It looks the exact same way as it did when it went in.” Daughenbaugh tried to return to his career as a carpenter after he was medically discharged in 2005, but because of seizures and migraines was unable to resume his career. That’s when fate stepped in. “It’s kind of funny that the CEO of the Coalition always says that if you really want to, God connects the dots for you and everything that we’re doing is predestined. I think God was kind of remaining anonymous in my case because one of the guys who was the very first amputee to ever come out of the Iraq war was a guy I went to school with. He was great friends with my twin brother, and he was in Brooke Army Medical Center when the Coalition was founded.” “He was trying so hard to get in touch with me at a time when I felt like a failure, I felt like I really couldn’t do what I thought I was gonna do when I got out and he said, ‘I want to show you and your family some appreciation from the Coalition, from the American public.'” That’s when Daughenbaugh caught the volunteer bug. “I loved it. I went to a couple of concerts. I went to a couple sporting events with them and then very quickly I started reaching out to other wounded veterans in Iowa that I knew of from both my time in the Marine Corps but also from some of the events that I’d been invited to and I kind of brought them into the fold,” he explains. “One thing led to another and they offered me a job as a veteran outreach coordinator and that led to me helping to coordinate events and put on small fundraisers and that led to me not sucking at what I was doing. And just through me showing my commitment to wounded veterans I was given the opportunity to really lead this veteran service organization.” Daughenbaugh calls his injury the “best, worst thing” that ever happened to him and that he wouldn’t do anything differently. “It’s great for me to be able to help other people, but it’s also great for me emotionally and physically and spiritually because I’m not out killing myself trying to go into a very strenuous job. It enriches my soul because, just last week, I helped a guy who had been clueless for eight years about what was available to him because he lived in a rural community in Louisiana. He actually called me a superhero. I mean that’s years in the making but I couldn’t imagine doing something else.” You can read more about the Coalition Saluting America’s Heroes here. Follow more of our Vets Deserve Good Jobs coverage here.