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Nonprofit born from post-9/11 wars still helping vets after 20 years

Recon Marine Eddie Wright was on his second deployment to Iraq in April 2004 when he was caught in the kill zone of an insurgent ambush in Fallujah, Iraq.

Later estimates put the attacker numbers at between 40 and 60. Enemy fire engulfed Wright and his fellow Marines. A rocket-propelled grenade struck him, taking both his hands and fracturing his femur.

Soon after he spent three weeks in the intensive care unit in Maryland at Bethesda Naval Medical Center before being transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for long-term recovery.

His mother flew to the United States from Ireland where she lived to help him. One day as he walked with her back from a physical therapy appointment, a worker with the nonprofit Semper Fi Fund came to find them because they were giving grants to families supporting their wounded loved ones.

“Because a lot of families had to stop working and were paying out of pocket for food and other things as they tried to stay around their wounded veteran,” Wright said.

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He said the military medical system simply wasn’t prepared for the large influx of wounded in the early years of the post-9/11 wars.

The nonprofit provides direct assistance to injured, wounded and ill service members, veterans and their families. Initially founded to assist Marines and sailors, the organization expanded to become the Semper Fi and America’s Fund in 2012 to meet the needs of troops from all military branches.

Wright, 48, was one of its early beneficiaries. As the organization hits its 20th year in operation in May, it boasts of having distributed $330 million in assistance to more than 32,000 service members and their families.

Wright was able to return to service and finish his enlistment, working as a martial arts instructor at The Basic School, which trains newly commissioned Marine officers.

“It was a great way to spend my last year in the Marine Corps, and kind of a way to go out on retirement on my own terms, go out with my boots on,” Wright said.

Christy Stover, who now oversees all the fund’s case managers on the West Coast, joined the fund in 2007 and became Wright’s case manager.

“We were so busy, but in the best way possible,” Stover told Marine Corps Times. “In the early days, there were so many people who were in the hospital and there were catastrophically wounded service members like Eddie.”

From the outset, Stover said, the organization sought to fill gaps that others didn’t. She remembers providing funding for a special water filtration system at the home of a veteran who’d been severely burned.

The fund also began a bed grant program to provide specialized beds for veterans with injuries to the spine, neck, lower body or even migraines.

Over time as various health and other problems among veterans became more prevalent, the fund adapted.

The fund paid his airfare a few years ago when he had to travel on short notice to Ireland when his mother had her own health problems, he said.

It continues to offer a service member and family support program and has added a transition program for veterans leaving the service and an integrative wellness program to provide long-term health tools and therapies for veterans.

In fiscal year 2023 the fund provided $29.5 million in assistance, adding 2,100 first-time recipients, according to fund data.

The family service and support fund issued $21 million to 10,900 recipients during that period. Another $3.2 million was used for transition support to 1,800 individuals.

Support extends beyond the initial contact, Stover said. Case managers check in with veterans for years beyond their first assistance.

“Some people here a long time have got several hundred cases they’re working on,” Stover said.

Wright has used a neurological fitness program through the fund that helps participants mitigate and ameliorate stress through breathing and other techniques.

“It helps you to heal the brain, rewire and produce new mechanisms of coping,” Wright said.

The fund operates through donations, it does not receive government financing, Stover said. Donations range from one-time or recurring monthly donations to more than $100 million in support throughout 12 years from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation, whose namesake Bob Parsons is a Marine veteran.

Though the number of wounded returning home has decreased as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended, many of those who served still need help.

Wright often recommends the fund to friends and veterans he meets.

“They’ve got 20 years’ experience of caring about us, relationships that are long lasting,” Wright said. “They’ve had the experience, they’ve seen it all, whatever you’re going through.”

Stover said that referrals such as Wright’s help the fund continue to assist those in need.

“I think people forget with some of the individual invisible wounds that our service members endured, that it doesn’t stop just because the war is over,” Stover said. “The need is still there.”

That commitment gives veterans such as Wright a measure of reassurance.

“It’s relief,” Wright said. “If something happens, no matter what you’re going to receive the care you need. You’re not going to be left behind.”

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