Semper Fi Fund: Helping the Healing Process

Brian Meyer, 31, and his wife, Jesseca, 25, say the support provided by Semper Fi Fund has been crucial.

Brian Meyer had one month to go on a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan. He and his fellow Marines were called in to handle a bomb found in the middle of a road in the town of Sangin. Meyer remembers bending down to retrieve the device, but what happened next is a total blur, a time in his life he really can't remember. Meyer was seriously injured in the explosion on March 14, 2011, losing his right leg, right hand and part of his left hand. More than a week later, with his wife and parents at his side at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Meyer's condition was upgraded to stable. That's when a team from the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund entered his hospital room to find out what the young gunnery sergeant needed to recover. He needed his brother, Kevin. "From my perspective - and so much of it is a fog - they say, 'Hey Brian, who do you want here?' " Meyer recalls. "It seemed like the next day Kevin was there." The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance to injured service members and their families. The nonprofit provided travel, lodging and lost wages to Meyer's wife and family so they could be at his bedside. "When there is any financial need in the healing process, we are there to help," says Sondria Saylor, Semper Fi Fund senior director of western region case management. "We want spouses and families to be totally focused on the healing of their wounded loved ones and not worry about the financial needs." The Semper Fi Fund began as a grassroots effort in the spring of 2003 when the first wave of wounded Marines and sailors were returning to Camp Pendleton from Iraq. Karen Guenther, a registered nurse and Marine wife, saw up close the challenges the wounded warriors were facing. They needed basic necessities like clean T-shirts and phone cards. Guenther and other Marine wives helped make gift bags for the wounded. It soon became apparent to Guenther that these wounded and their families needed more - including financial assistance. The next year, Semper Fi Fund became a registered nonprofit and began helping wounded service members nationwide. "If we have a wounded service member who needs a wheelchair-accessible van, for instance, or modifications to his home - whatever he needs in the healing process - we are there," says Saylor. "We have service members who were badly injured in Iraq who we are still helping to this day. There are still so many needs." Severely burned service members, for instance, need water softening systems so they can shower pain-free, Saylor says, while those suffering traumatic brain injuries might need special software to aid with memory issues. "We try to think outside the box," Saylor says. Meyer, 31, and his wife, Jesseca, 25, say the support provided by Semper Fi Fund has been crucial. When he was discharged from the hospital in Bethesda, Meyer faced months of rehabilitation at Naval Medical Center San Diego, a 55-mile drive from the couple's home in Oceanside. Semper Fi Fund provided gas cards. The Meyers needed adaptations to their home; Semper Fi Fund put in hard-surface flooring. "They even asked if we wanted a service dog and I'm like, 'You know we have a great dog already," Meyer says. Veritas is a 130-pound Great Dane the Meyers have raised from puppyhood. Semper Fi Fund covered the dog's training as a service animal and bought a shell for the Meyers' truck so he can ride in the back. Semper Fi Fund offers many services for spouses and families of wounded warriors, like dinners at nice restaurants; family days; manicures and pedicures; marriage retreats; and massages. "They invite the wives to spa days," says Jesseca Meyer. "They know we need a break. They always remind us they are never going away and that is always a very calming and reassuring statement from them." Guenther says despite the military drawdown overseas, the need to help our wounded warriors and their families remains and will remain indefinitely. "As our troops return home from Afghanistan, we face perhaps the greatest challenge of all," she says. "Public support will undoubtedly wane as the images and stories of combat fade from the headlines, but our veterans will continue to need our help navigating their long recoveries and rejoining their communities." Meyer considers himself lucky. "I have my wonderful wife and tons of family who rallied around me instantly," he says. "There is always somebody out there who has got it worse. Five months after the detonation, with my prostheses, I was back to being pretty much independent. Two years out, I am one-legged in my dreams." Semper Fi Fund has been with him through it all. "I can't say enough good things about them," Meyer says.

Since establishing this fund in 2004, Semper Fi Fund has issued more than 56,000 grants totaling more than $74 million to over 9,200 of our heroes and their families.

• The Padres support the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit group that provides immediate financial aid to injured and critically ill service members and their families. Since its beginnings in 2004 as wounded warriors returned home from Operation Iraqi Freedom, the fund has provided $74 million in assistance to more than 9,300 injured service members and their families.

• Semper Fi Fund has an overhead of less than 6 percent. It is one of only two charities for veterans to receive an "A+" rating from Charity Watch and is a four-time recipient of a "Four Star" rating from Charity Navigator. For more information, go to www.semperfifund.org.