Group focuses on helping veterans

July 1, 2011 8:22:00 PM PDT
This weekend, many of you will gather with friends and family to celebrate the birth of our nation and the freedoms it brought.

In the celebrations, it's easy to forget there are still thousands of Americans fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others, and for many of them, that sacrifice has had life changing consequences.

Sgt. Latseen Benson was on his second deployment to Iraq in 2005 when an IED explosion took his legs.

It took nine months of recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center and months more of outpatient therapy. Today he uses his wheelchair or prosthetics to get around.

"For better or for worse, people forget that we are people. They give you the pity smile, I hate the pity smile," he said.

Like many of his fellow soldiers, Sgt. Benson's decision to join the military came abruptly after seeing these images on September 11, 2001.

"It had a complete 180 degree effect on me; I had absolutely no desire to be in the military, get yelled at, whatsoever," he said.

And just as many went with him to the battlefield, they are coming home with life-changing injuries.

"Texas is the second largest behind the state of California as far as numbers in the military, which means we have the second most wounded and translates into the second most as far as getting killed," said Jim Hoelker with Impact Player Partners.

But a local organization is here to let them know they are not alone.

What started with a $3,000 fundraiser in Hoelker's living room in October 2004 has grown to an organization called Impact Player Partners that's raised more than $800,000 a year with its Impact A Hero weekend, which includes a 5K run and gala that recognizes wounded soldiers like Sgt. Benson.

"We clap for five minutes to tell them thank you but they've got to get up and live their injuries 24/7," Hoelker said.

The organization helps as many as 700 families a year with financial and emotional support.

"A chance to say hi, thank you, and actually recognize us as human beings, some as heroes. I personally don't feel like a hero, I just got caught in a bad situation," Benson said.

Most of the wounded coming home are younger than 30, and just like Sgt. Benson they have a story and frustrations, but a message there's a lot of life left to live.

"We may be a little different, we may be disabled, we may have scars, in and out, but we still are who we are," Benson said.

Sgt. Benson is moving from Texas to Colorado to continue ski training. He hopes to one day qualify for the Paralympics with the U.S. ski team.

For more information on how you can help wounded veterans go to our website, go to

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