By MORGAN MANNS
As the Wounded Warrior Project states, “The greatest casualty is being forgotten.”
Fostoria resident Cindy Parsons has been working hard to ensure that veterans such as her son, Shane Parsons, and others like him are not forgotten after their services to their country.
Through Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) — a non-profit organization that serves military service members who incurred service-connected wounds, injuries or illness on or after Sept. 11, 2001 — Cindy has become a voice of empowerment, sharing Shane’s story across the country.
In addition, Shane is receiving first-hand care through the project’s Independence Program, which brings together the warrior and his/her support team while creating an individualized plan focusing on specific goals for the warrior.
“This program helps injured soldiers get back into the community and be more independent,” Cindy said. “There’s nothing out there like this.”
Cindy said the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) helps veterans through rehabilitation, but once they feel the veterans have reached their fullest potential or once they go home, the care once provided comes to an end and veterans must figure out how to fit into the community. WWP “fills in those gaps” and continues to provide care for wounded veterans throughout their lives.
With only a month left of his first tour in Iraq, Shane, then 21, was severely injured Sept. 30, 2006 by an EFP (explosive force projectile), or roadside bomb, that blew up as the Humvee he was driving went over it. Consequently, his left leg was lost and his right leg was later amputated in order to save his life.
He also suffered severe anoxic brain injuries, including short-term and long-term memory loss and cognitive deficits and post traumatic stress disorder, from losing a significant amount of blood, going into cardiac arrest and losing oxygen to the brain.
Although it took him years to remember, Shane, now 28, was able to recall events from the day of and the days following the explosion.
“I had that day off,” he said, adding that he took the spot of his friend who had recently found out his wife was pregnant. “We were three or four miles out. I remember getting hit; I went into shock. I went to get out, to walk it off and to start shooting back, but I couldn’t (walk).”
Shane was taken to a hospital in Germany and later flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the states. He was honorably medically discharged from the Army in 2009, at which time he fell into a VA gap and became involved with WWP, according to Cindy. VA stopped providing speech therapy for Shane once they felt he reached his fullest potential. WWP would continue to provide that care throughout his life.
Through the Independence Program, Shane is able to work with an Adult Disability Literacy Tutor, Cindy Roff, who helps him read and write; a personal trainer through BodyFix, Shawna Reinhart, who helps him retain muscle mass; and a community support worker through Goodwill Industries, Donte Johnson, who helps him get involved within the community.
“It’s helped me immensely psychologically and physically,” Shane said. “I’ve overcome that injury. I’m a part of something again. I’m not just a statistic. It’s helped empower me and my mother to succeed and go on in life. That’s the big thing.”
Shane has been across the country skiing, hunting, fishing, sky diving and more through the program. He currently plays for an ice sled hockey team for wounded veterans, the Ohio Warriors, He has been active in the community by assisting the Fostoria High School football team, traveling to various high schools and talking to students, sharing his story and empowering them.
“I don’t know where we’d be if we didn’t have this program,” Cindy said. “I shudder to think about it. Talking to other vets and sharing his story is our therapy. With the help of people like Donte, (Shane) has become immensely different and more attentive. He speaks from the heart and is very passionate.
“A lot of soldiers come back that have PTSD and they drink and do drugs and play video games because that’s all they can do to cope on their own. With this program, they have large support groups that get them to be independent and help them cope in a healthy, active way.”
A more recent program WWP offers is the Long-Term Support Trust program, which ensures services to the severely wounded who, upon the loss of their caregiver, are at risk for institutionalization.
“If something happens to me tomorrow, what’s going to happen to Shane?” Cindy said. “With this program, they bring a team in to work with Shane to give him the most independent lifestyle to continue on and make sure his immediate and long-term needs are met.”
WWP currently has an “I Mean It” campaign, which is a $30 million commitment to serving seriously injured veterans who would otherwise be at risk for institutionalization. Cindy said WWP is requesting individuals to pledge their support for the programs, at no cost, so that wounded veterans continue to receive care for the rest of their lives. The list of pledges will be taken to Capitol Hill to show the government that they want wounded warriors to receive long-term care.
Through WWP’s Independence and Long-Term Support Trust programs, injured veterans are receiving the life-long care they need to be able to learn to live independently and to the fullest.
For more information on the Wounded Warrior Project or to pledge support, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.
“As a mom, I can only do so much,” Cindy said. “I’ll do whatever it takes for him to achieve his fullest independence and for him to be happy. He wants to be out with the guys and part of a team. (WWP) allows him to do that.
“He’s come a long way and I’m so proud of him. He’s my hero.”