The importance of sustained support of our injured veterans and first responders so that they can live life fully cannot be overstated.
Because of the improvements in battlefield medicine, many young men and women who wouldn’t have made it home after suffering catastrophic injuries are here to celebrate another Veterans Day. Losing a limb may have changed their appearance, but it does not change their spirit for adventure and activity.
Advances in today’s prosthetic technology are remarkable. Improved dexterity, stronger materials, and even computer chips to help the limb operate properly are examples of such technological innovations that help our veterans. These technological wonders are developed by professionals within the Veterans Administration and in the private sector.
There is a lesser-known group of brilliant young people who are meeting these challenges—college STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students at 19 university systems nationwide. Undergrads from Virginia Tech to Colorado School of Mines, George Mason to Ohio University have contributed to the Quality of Life Plus initiative. These passionate undergraduate innovators meet with injured veterans who need an assistive device to help them navigate their world and achieve a higher quality of life. After discussing the needs of the veteran, the students—as part of their senior capstone projects—design and build the custom device.
“Working on this project has definitely become one of my proudest college experiences. It is one thing to learn more and advance my skill set in a classroom setting, but another to get to apply myself to a real impactful project with the goal of bettering one’s daily life” said John DesRochers of Rowan University who is a junior at Rowan University, scheduled to graduate in 2022.
Significant life-altering innovations can create a renewed passion for living. In one instance, a device was designed that allowed a paralyzed Navy veteran to be lifted from his wheelchair to a recumbent bike. Another creation provided a voice-activated bicycle-shifting device for a triple-amputee Marine veteran. An Army veteran who used hooks at the end of his prosthetic arm can now use touch screens with an assistive device.
Evidence of the magic of these students and the generational spirit of our country are STEM undergrads, many of whom have not had any prior interaction with veterans, who come to appreciate the sacrifice of those who chose to serve their country. In turn, these veterans are honored for their service and know that there are people across the country who continue to care for them.
Many of us have seen first-hand how seriously wounded heroes are treated like rock stars when they come home to recover at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Politicians, celebrities, and others come to thank them for their service and invite them to high-profile events. But when these men and women return to their hometowns to restart their lives, they quickly fade from view.
In addition to flying the flag, holding a parade, or visiting a VA home to say thanks, this enduring effort to honor and support America’s bravest with America’s brightest shines. This initiative powered by the next generation of innovators who dig deep into their creative minds to take on a seemingly impossible project and come up with a life-changing device is a stand-out; a truly remarkable and lasting way to say Welcome Home.