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Finding Physical Freedom

After serving his country in the Marine Corps and Army, Dave Denhardt faced traumatic brain injury (TBI), PTSD, herniated discs in his neck, severe nerve damage, and loss of much of the use of one arm. But he didn’t let that stop him.

At first, he thought there would be a long list of things he wouldn’t be able to do again. He’d always been an outdoorsy guy, and the thought of not being able to fish or go camping made him depressed.

Dave faced years of tests and surgeries, attempting to regain what he’d lost because of his injuries.

But when he was recovering in the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, after his deployment to Afghanistan, he received a Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) backpack. Since then, he’s connected with programs and services from the veterans charity and used WWP as a healing tool.

“I had nothing else and being able to have somebody there welcoming me home, even though I was still in Germany, meant everything,” Dave said.

Even with WWP’s help, Dave faced a tough transition.

“It has been one of the most difficult transitions that I still have to figure out and go through, being told that you’ve worked all these years, and now go home and do nothing,” he said. “It’s hard for me being the one taking care of everybody and being the one who’s strong, and now all of a sudden, I’m the one who needs the help.”

Dave got involved in WWP’s Independence Program, which helped him get out of the house and find things he can do that he thought he’d never do again. Dave’s vertigo and forgetfulness puts him at risk of falling or having a seizure. The program provides Dave with a life coach who provides in-home care, rehabilitation through alternative therapies, and life skills coaching. This support makes it possible for him to get back to doing some of the things he loves.

For example, because of nerve damage causing hypersensitive hearing and vertigo, he thought he’d never be able to go to the movies again. But now he has headphones that dampen the sound, and, with his life coach, he’ll go to the movies during the day so there aren’t too many other people in the theater.

Dave has also been able to get back outdoors. With the help of his life coach, he’ll spend five or six hours enjoying the fresh air and fishing.

“My hands don’t always work for setting the hooks, getting the lines set up, and getting the fish off the hook, so it’s nice to have someone there who can help and do that kind of stuff for me,” Dave said.

“It’s nice having somebody who can be there to help in those times that I need it,” he added. “If something does happen and I need attention right away, there’s somebody there who can handle that situation. It’s really nice to get out of the house and develop a new friendship while being able to see what I can and can’t do again.”

WWP has also introduced Dave to Soldier Ride®, scuba diving, water skiing, and riding zip lines. He now even has gotten back to playing hockey, which he enjoyed playing since childhood.

“If you have something you love, you’ll see with all these other warriors that it’s worth it because you’re doing something you love with your brothers and sisters who have your back, and you have their back.”

Being part of WWP has reminded Dave that he still has a purpose and can do things he loves. It’s empowered him to push to see what else he can do. He now likes to spread awareness of the issues and transitions that warriors face and inform people about how to focus on the important and positive things in life.

“There’s always somebody who is there to help you,” Dave said. “Don’t feel that you’re alone because you’re not.”

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. Learn more.