Justin and Dahlia at their wedding

Today is Veterans Day. Perhaps several of you have the day off from work, which is a nice break right before the weekend. I don’t come from a military family – I never even knew anyone in the military. It wasn’t until I moved to DC that I gained an appreciation for individuals in the military. So, I’m dedicating this post to Justin and Dahlia. I met Dahlia through work. For our project, Dahlia and I ended up spending several long drives together, so I had the opportunity to learn the story of her life…especially after Justin came along. They have an incredible story and it needs to be shared.

You can learn more about their story from this video. Justin and Dahlia were in a long-distance relationship. After a short time, Justin was deployed to Iraq and he was shot in the face by a sniper. Dahlia flew to meet Justin and help take care of him. The rest is history. Seriously, check out the video. Since then, Justin has had several surgeries, the couple married and they’ve started a website, Iraq and Back and definitely keep up with their blog.

I contacted Justin and Dahlia to give some insight on how Justin’s injury and Veterans Affairs have affected their lives and their relationship. You can read the interview to get a snapshot into their lives:

How did you both cope with his serious injury? How has it affected your relationship – to this day?

Sarika, I am going to answer this in terms of what kept me going and motivated, although I never really had some sort of concrete plan.

I think an important piece was identifying achievable goals and working towards them.  For instance, during my initial 18-hour surgery at Bethesda, the doctors removed the fibula bone from my right leg to use it to reconstruct my lower jaw.  As a result, I could not walk. When they authorized me to walk again, it was still very difficult to do so.  My first goal was to walk to the bathroom (about 10 feet), then to the door (15 feet), and so on.  Dahlia and I had a minor celebration when I was able to take a lap around the floor of the hospital wing.

After  that, we focused on a healthy recovery after each surgery, and found ways to make the most out of a bad situation.  We spent lots of time outdoors, and because I was on convalescent leave while I recovered, were able to travel to different national parks and other remote areas where we could get away from it all and enjoy the quiet solitude.  Now we have a much more of a macro view, and concentrate on helping others who haven’t been so fortunate in their recoveries.

The mental health aspect of the recovery is paramount, and Dahlia and I spent lots of time talking about issues I was facing.  I also saw a VA counselor at a nearby Vet Center in Alexandria.  Today Dahlia and I are incredibly close, and know that we can rely on each other for anything.  She definitely made all the difference in my recovery.

What were your experiences in working with Veterans Affairs?

Working with the VA has been kind of a mixed bag.  I had the same complaints that many of our veterans had about the backlog associated with my compensation claim, and how it was initially adjudicated.  However, I know that the VA has made some good strides in that regard.  However, problems still continue.  For instance, we have a VA loan for our house, and I am scheduled to sign the paperwork for the refi this Friday.  However, because the VA did not provide the paperwork to the mortgage broker as they should have, that will now be pushed off to next week.  That is okay for me because I am an entrepreneur and have some degree of flexibility with my schedule, but with most other people that would be a problem.   From a medical perspective, I haven’t had any VA care, so I cannot comment on that.  I do have good things to say about my VA counselor.

Anything else?

How we started Iraq and Back is important to us, and you can learn all about that (maybe you already know from talking to Dahlia?) on the About Us page of our website.  We are actually very close to launching a much-needed revamping of the website, and that should come out next week.

Also, as you can see on the website, we are running our T-Shirts For Troops Campaign, where people can buy patriotic tee shirts from us at cost ($10), and then we send those shirts down to the wounded warriors and their families in San Antonio down at the Warrior and Family Support Center, a 501(c)(3) corporation.  Thus, their purchases are actually tax-deductible donations.  We started this because I remember getting a Wounded Warrior Project tee shirt when I was recovering in the hospital, and it made me feel really good to know that someone out there in America was rooting for me (I still have that shirt!).  We are hoping to recreate that feeling many times over, and are already more than halfway to our goal of sending down 3,500 shirts.

Thank you so much, Justin and Dahlia!

Make sure to check out their website and buy a t-shirt! Check out these other stories that have been in the news this week:

Happy Veterans Day and thank you.