A lethal roadside bomb wounded Master Sergeant Jeffrey Mittman on July 7, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq. Though within 30 minutes of the attack Mittman was airlifted to a hospital in Baghdad, he sustained permanent bodily damage. When he awoke one month later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he was blinded in his left eye, his right arm was badly damaged, and he had lost his nose, lips, and most of his teeth.
After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, tales like Mittman's have become increasingly more common. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq created more injuries resulting in blindness than any conflict since the Civil War. Advanced medical technologies have enabled more service personnel to survive serious injuries, which in prior wars would have resulted in fatalities.
Back at home, Mittman faced many roadblocks to rehabilitation. Today, as it was back then, 70 percent of working-age people who are blind cannot find jobs.
Mittman chose to become involved in a training program with National Industries for the Blind through the Warrior in Transition Program; in this role he supports a critical mission of employment for people with disabilities. He recently received the prestigious "Oz Day" award, presented to a federal employee or member of the military who demonstrates exceptional service in promoting employment opportunities for people who are blind or severely disabled.
"I decided long ago -- I can either own [my experiences] and learn from these experiences or I can let them own me. I chose the former," said Mittman. "I am humbled and proud to receive this honor, and I am eager to continue to be an example to our wounded warriors and other individuals with disabilities, showing them what is possible."
Through the Wounded Warrior Program at NIB, wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts can become informed about training, job placement and career opportunities within NIB and 90 associated nonprofit agencies across the country. NIB's mission is to enhance the opportunities for economic and personal independence of persons who are blind, primarily through creating, sustaining, and improving employment.
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Program, visit www.nib.org.