Fighting the War Within: Local Effort Benefits Fallen Heroes Fund

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Keith Nicoletti and Susan Craig with basketball for raffle. Photo: Theresa Curry.

It was six or seven years ago when Susan Craig first came across a statistic that shocked her: “I read that between 20 and 22 American active duty veterans take their own lives every day,” she said. “To me, this is just unacceptable.” For a while, busy with an ailing husband and a move, she could only fume silently. “I made up my mind that as soon as I could do something, I would do something,” she said.

Now that time has come. Craig discovered the work done by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a charity started by late New Yorker Zachary Fisher, whose charitable goal was to build accessible world-class treatment centers for returning soldiers with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders. After building a specialized center in San Antonio, the fund built the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed in Bethesda specifically for research, diagnosis and treatment for the hidden wounds of war. 

As Craig did a little research, she uncovered a few more statistics. The Intrepid Fund found that traumatic brain injury actually accounts for 36 percent of all injuries suffered by American service men and women. Previously, many of these injuries were misdiagnosed as post-traumatic stress, although in many cases both disorders are present. 

She also learned that more than 90 percent of those treated at the national center and its satellites were able to enjoy a full life, whether in active duty or in a retirement profession.

The other centers built by the fund are at military bases in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Washington and California, and others are planned for Colorado, Texas and Florida.

Other statistics added to Craig’s resolve to take action. “I found that not a single dime collected goes into administration,” she said. “Every penny raised by the fund goes to build, staff and operate these centers, or otherwise help veterans and their families.” The significant amount—$200 million—earmarked to help veterans has also provided $20 million in grants to families of service men and women killed in action.

Anyone returning from active duty in a conflict area knows exactly what it’s like, but few others do, confirmed Keith Nicoletti, a retired Army Lt. Col. and Craig’s Old Trail neighbor. “I had grown up in the Army and had everything all planned out for me,” he said. “Retiring after 21 years and coming home was a struggle for me, and I hadn’t been wounded.” 

He recalled a young woman injured when an incoming explosive device was launched right into the makeshift room where she was taking her lunch break while deployed in Afghanistan.

“She was obviously seriously injured but did not want me to get her to medical care,” he said. “Everyone feels so strongly that they must stay with their fellow soldiers and provide support that they often feel strange and guilty when they survive and come home, even if they have serious wounds, and even when their enlistment is up.”

Add the serious health problems caused by brain injury, amputations, loneliness and poverty, and there are ample reasons why veterans struggle with depression, Nicoletti said. 

Nicoletti and Craig see the 90 percent success rate for those treated at the centers established by the fund as encouraging news. Craig is in the process of putting together a raffle to benefit this effort. “Donations are coming in,” she said, including gift baskets, restaurant coupons and a basketball signed by a championship Virginia team. Raffle tickets can be bought at B&B Cleaners in Crozet, or call Craig at 434-205-4503. The drawing will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11 at Tabor Presbyterian Church. 

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