As the nation prepares to honor U.S. military veterans for their bravery and sacrifices, Veteran’s Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on how we can better help these courageous individuals and their families, right here in our own backyard.
The news headlines are clear: many of our veterans who valiantly served to defend our country, struggle when reintegrating into civilian life. Many are left homeless, particularly here in Silicon Valley where housing costs are among the highest in the nation. Others strive to gain employment but lack the necessary skill sets as technological advancements continue to shape our workforce. Still others who were wounded or suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, lack proper health care.
I have had the distinct honor to serve over 20 U.S. veterans in the past four years as part of my practice’s Gift of Sight program. In each of those years, my staff and I provided the consultation, surgery and post-op visits at no cost to veterans, working with The Cost of Courage Foundation to identify many of these deserving veterans.
The Cost of Courage Foundation’s mission is to support the educational and personal needs of deserving military veterans in our community to ensure a successful transition back into civilian life. We also work with other organizations to identify candidates who are in dire need of vision correction but cannot afford it.
While we are helping them regain their quality of life, it is equally rewarding for us. One particularly inspiring story this year is that of Leonard Vigil III, a San Jose native with five siblings, raised by a single mother.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Leonard was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, where his battalion endured a 40 percent casualty rate. Though he survived, he was hit by a roadside bomb and suffered from traumatic brain and vision injuries. Although wounded, he still assisted his fellow injured Marines and provided safety for them until they were medically evacuated. For this act of bravery, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Marine and Navy Accommodation medal with a distinguished “V” for Valor.
Today, Leonard is a father of two and is pursuing a master’s degree at Pacific Oaks College in San Jose with the goal to work with veterans as an outreach coordinator. But he has been hampered by his vision, which was 20/200 in his right eye—rendering him legally blind—and 20/100 is his left eye. Following surgery, he now has better than normal vision in both eyes.
For every veteran like Leonard whom we are able to help, we know that much more can be done. This Veteran’s Day, I encourage you to draw inspiration and find out more about some of the organizations that are working to help improve veterans’ lives.
For example, the USO also recently announced a much-needed partnership with Google to offer career training and instructional support to service members and their spouses.
We also have Proposition 1, known as the Veterans and Affordable Housing Act, on the November ballot, which would allow the investment of $4 billion in affordable housing for veterans, seniors and families.
I urge each citizen to consider how they can play a role in helping these deserving individuals reintegrate into society, drawing on your own interests and abilities.
Dr. Michael Furlong is the founder and medical director of Furlong Vision Correction. He established the Gift of Sight in 2002 to assist deserving individuals who can’t afford correction services. Since its inception, he has treated more than 150 patients, free of charge. Past recipients include Hope Services, The American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Diabetes Society of Santa Clara County among others. Opinions in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].