Website finds help for injured veterans - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

Website finds help for injured veterans

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Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 7:15 am

USA Together is becoming known as the Craigslist for wounded warriors.

And so far, nearly 600 American servicemen who were seriously injured or disabled during tours of service have been helped through hardships by receiving either private or in-kind contributions from the California-based nonprofit organization for essential needs after they have been discharged from the military. Of those servicemen and women, about 12 from Arizona have been helped, including at least one from the East Valley.

Army veteran Ricoh Danielson of Gilbert, who followed in the footsteps of his father to serve in the military, is one of the many hundreds of veterans who was helped by USA Together. Danielson, who was seriously injured in an explosion during the war in Iraq and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disabilities, later was helped with health insurance, groceries and three months of mortgage assistance when he was unemployed and his savings were depleted.

“This is very tough for me to ask, but I am looking for assistance until I can find another job,” Danielson wrote at the time.

Although Danielson, 29, continues to have physical problems with shrapnel in his stomach and leg, among other injuries, he began working a job three weeks ago as a quality analyst in Scottsdale to help support his family.

Danielson said Tuesday that he found out about USA Together after discussing his situation with various veterans agencies, including federal recovery coordinators. He is grateful for the help he received.

“I was just expecting a few dollars for help, and USA Together helped me with major bills for three months,” Danielson said. “They helped me out quite a bit. They also identified other organizations for me that could provide assets and reached out to employment organizations who could help me.”

Overall, USA Together has provided more than $300,000 in assistance to disabled veterans, not including the cost of in-kind donations such as a piece of furniture, car or home repairs.

USA Together was formed about four years ago by Dave Mahler, a former Silicon Valley executive who recognized the need for an online avenue where veterans could seek help without going through the paperwork and red tape to receive help from other organizations while being able to tell their own stories and make requests for their needs.

Mahler, who founded Remedy, a company that provided IT support desks, began organizing USA Together after stopping at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration and discussing the plan to help fulfill the needs of wounded soldiers through the power of the Internet.

Mahler told the Tribune he used to drive past the Veterans Administration home in Palo Alto every day and decided one day to stop in and talk to the public affairs officials about the challenges facing military families after hearing about the number of casualties on the radio.

“One of the lessons that we learned from the Vietnam War is that we should support our troops,” Mahler said. “After talking to the public affairs officer, I got together with some of my friends, talked about it, and we just wanted to do our part to stand up for those who stood up and served our country. These are the most humble, polite requests for help. No one is asking for a new flat-screen TV for their living room.”

Veterans’ requests have ranged from seeking help to repair a broken window, the construction of a wheelchair ramp at their home or buying groceries.

A team of about 14 volunteers now works to review a veteran’s needs, verify through documentation that the individual requesting assistance served in the military and is in some way disabled. Volunteers also review a veteran’s story and request before it is posted on the USA Together website, www.USAtogether.org. Most of the veterans seeking assistance have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, but the organization is open to helping all veterans. Funds to help veterans are directly channeled to whatever agency needs to be paid such as the utility company.

“For some reason, when people hear of wounded warriors, they think they are from somewhere else in the country,” Mahler said. “They’re often shocked to hear that these veterans are in their own community. We are moved when we hear about an individual case instead of just being aware of a generic problem. This is one of the good things the Internet can be used for, and we hope that more people become aware of us and know that there are veterans out there who need help.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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