“My life changed in ways I would never imagine,” Dan Smee said during a recent conversation. The Army veteran recounted his experiences as a combat medic in Iraq.
“On a daily basis, if you didn’t see something traumatic, it was in your mind maybe something from the day before, so it’s always on your mind."
Dan first served in the 1980s. He then rejoined after 9/11 to serve his nation.
“I came back, I was really proud of my service, but things started to unravel for me, went badly, I just started to isolate and self-medicate.”
Dan was finally started to feel the effects of what he experienced while deployed in a war zone, something he didn’t have time to face in Iraq.
“You didn’t really process the trauma at that point – you just had it and compartmentalized it and kept driving on.
“I wasn’t really dealing with a lot of the stuff I had etched on my memory and scarred in my soul a little bit. Luckily Wounded Warrior Project was one of the things that helped me get back on track.”
Dan crossed paths with Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) several times over the years before connecting with the veterans charity.
“Some of the guys I would serve with would get injured and go to Landstuhl, and they would come back with backpacks, and they were talking how great.”
WWP meets warriors in their hospital beds at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, providing backpacks filled with shorts, shirts, socks, and other items needed when a veteran is rushed from Afghanistan or Iraq for medical care. WWP started by delivering backpacks of care items to wounded veterans. WWP connects warriors, families, and caregivers with healing programs and services. For 15 years, its focus has been building long-term veteran support structures that empower warriors on their paths to recovery.
While Dan learned the name, he didn’t seek help after returning home.
“I started hearing commercials about the Wounded Warrior Project and the things they were doing.”
A commercial involving a man very dear to Dan Smee finally convinced him to get connected.
In November 2004, an improvised explosive device detonated beneath a Humvee in Balad, Iraq. One soldier died in the explosion. A Staff Sergeant was gravely injured, but Dan Smee helped save his life. Dan Nevins suffered a traumatic brain injury and had one of his legs amputated below the knee. His other leg had to be amputated after dozens of surgeries attempting to save it. While Dan Nevins survived because of the great work of his combat medic, Dan Smee still struggled with the trauma from that day. Hearing Dan Nevins in a commercial, years after the explosion helped spur recovery.
“I thought, if he’s involved with Wounded Warrior Project, that’s where I’m going, I’m onboard at that point.”
Dan registered and immediately started connecting with other wounded veterans. In late May, Dan had the chance to reconnect again with his Army buddy, Staff Sergeant Dan Nevins. The two shared a stage at WWP's annual Courage Awards and Benefits Dinner. The annual event recognizes the service and dedication of those who make the WWP mission possible, and those who inspire others to do more for our nations wounded warriors. The crowd got to see their story and see Dan Nevins take the opportunity to say thank you to the combat medic who was there for him in Balad.
“What a transformative event the Courage Awards can be. This event changed the course of my life. It was here where I reconnected with my friend Dan Nevins. After that night, I started to see my life take a different shape. I took on a new mission and life of service to my fellow warriors, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Through his efforts, Dan Smee has felt a change.
“That’s a big part for me is the engagement portion of Wounded Warrior Project because that is what helped me in my recovery.”
Dan meets and gets to know other veterans through gatherings that include bowling, a reading group, dinners, and sports outings. The fun atmosphere at these events helps warriors avoid isolation while interacting with other veterans and families.
“So we can stay connected, support each other, that’s always a good feeling knowing that there is somebody there to help.”
Warriors also gather to perform service projects to help the community.
“The support of the people helping us that have come back and struggled a little bit, by them giving back has helped countless veterans.”
Some of these connections occur during regular meetings of WWP Veteran Peer Support Groups. WWP establishes these groups across the country to help warriors create support structures by connecting with one another. WWP Peer Support Groups are in more than 25 states including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. They are expanding to more than 50 groups by the end of 2018.
What is vital about these connections, they allow warriors to learn about the impactful veteran programs WWP offers. Wounded Warrior Project is transforming the way America’s injured veterans are empowered, employed, and engaged in our communities. Warriors never pay a penny for those programs – because they paid their dues on the battlefield. These free services in mental health, career counseling, and long-term rehabilitative care change lives.
Dan has noticed his own improvement.
“I’ve come leaps and bounds since I left the military to today.”
He now works for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Los Angeles, where he encourages other veterans to get involved with WWP and other veterans service organizations. He knows the challenge our nation faces caring for the men and women who volunteered to serve.
“A lot of our warriors are going to need care into the future.”
He also knows that the VA cannot help every veteran on its own.
“Veterans need Wounded Warrior Project because it is what it is going to be what helps them readjust and be successful and prosperous.”
Dan has felt the support from WWP and all of the veterans he has connected with over the years.
“It’s a good feeling they are right there with me; I’m never a phone call away from reaching out to somebody and getting assistance.”
That help allows Dan to find new meaning in his life helping other veterans on their journey to recovery – whether it be encouraging them to meet with other warriors or giving back in their community with any of the veterans service organizations.
“When I left the military, I didn’t have a mission or a purpose, and now today I volunteer my time with Wounded Warrior Project helping other veterans who need help."
While Dan’s life changed in ways he couldn’t imagine, the connections he has made have helped those many of those changes be for the positive.
“I could never envision what my life would be like without Wounded Warrior Project.”
Contact: Rob Louis – Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.627.0432