Corporal Michael V.: “More organizations should model themselves after Semper Fi Fund”

Posted on March 7, 2017

Born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Michael V. is happily married with three children. Inspired by the events of 9/11 to enlist in the Army back in 2005, he volunteered to deploy to Iraq in 2007/2008, during which he served as an infantryman machine gunner protecting civilian contractors.

After returning home from Iraq in 2008, Mike volunteered to deploy again, this time to Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 636th Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion as an infantryman (11B) Personal Security Detail (PSD) with a secondary role as a 35M, an Army classification for human intelligence collector.

On July 10, 2009, those intelligence-gathering efforts took a Squeez sawin'2horrible turn.

We were on a patrol, rolling quite a few vehicles through what we thought was a friendly village,” recalls Michael, who was positioned in the vehicle’s gunner turret. “This time, they decided to hit my vehicle, rocked it with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). I didn’t know I was hurt, I kept fighting.

As the vehicle continued to roll (drive), I couldn’t feel my left side, my back and head hurt, and I noticed immediate bruising and small amounts of blood, and I started getting dizzy (blacking out),” Michael continued, “The medevac came for my guys that were injured in my vehicle, the driver and TC (truck commander), and I was told I was going to be loaded as well to be medevac’d for treatment. I blacked out while being loaded up and flown out. I woke up in the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

Michael took some shrapnel in his back and chest as a result of the blast, but the greatest impact on his life came in the form of a traumatic brain injury that caused partial blindness, a loss of feeling in his extremities and a spinal injury that rendered him paraplegic. He’s required multiple brain surgeries, the first of which was conducted in 2013.

“The brain injury [a condition known as Chiari Malformation] is one of the rarest; it’s considered a disease,” he explained. “Most who have it are born with it, but with me it’s not genetic, it’s from the blast. My brain is herniating out of the skull into the spinal cord area. I will always need surgeries.

Shortly after Michael’s first brain surgery, a friend of his who worked for the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs as a patient advocate told him about the Semper Fi Fund program, America’s Fund. Michael has received a range of assistance from the Fund, including grants to help with travel to surgery in New York, books and a computer to further his education as well as assistance in purchasing an adaptive vehicle.

I speak with my case manager every few weeks,” Michael says, “She’s one of the nicest people I have ever met. She immediately showed concern, made it smooth going, and provided me with everything I’ve needed. She’s amazing. She’s worked her butt off to get things done—and everything is done within days.”Michael Mike Vasquez

Michael spends his time these days going to school—he’s obtained a Bachelor of Applied Science degree from Wayland Baptist University—and volunteering for nonprofit organizations. He currently sits on the board of the HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation.

I’m not the type of person to draw attention to myself,” Michael says, “but I want people to know that they should not forget the injured vets out there. Since I’ve been injured, friends, family, and my brothers in arms have come together to help me out in many ways and I greatly appreciate it. Many vets can’t go about a day without help and I think the general public should step up and help those veterans even more. All too much we hear about these helpless veterans giving up because they receive little to no help and become an unfortunate addition to the statistic of 22 veteran suicides a day. We need to stop this NOW, and this is where the public’s help comes in. Donating to organizations like the Semper Fi Fund and/or reaching out to those veterans themselves goes a long way and could potentially save more veterans.

All the work that the Semper Fi Fund does is definitely positive toward vets,” Michael continues. “They have a quick turnaround. They get things done. They helped me follow through with things I need to have done. More organizations should model themselves after Semper Fi Fund, and more people should support them.

Looking ahead to the future, Michael sees his work with HALO continuing and also envisions himself graduating with a second degree, in graphic design. He used to be a bodybuilder, and is thinking about returning to competition in a wheelchair division.

And with three young kids, Michael is busier than ever “doing stuff around the house and running errands. Technology helps me drive: I have hand controls for brakes and gas, lifts for getting me and my chair into the truck. The hardest part is getting things out of the truck, but most everything from before I can still do.

It would be nice to walk again or run again,” he adds. “With advanced technology, maybe that’ll be a possibility someday.