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A new start for injured military veterans

August 1, 2010
By Maggie Hall Walsh

Shortly after graduating from high school in Montana, David Kaiser joined the Army. He served eight years in the 82nd Airborne and loved it. He was promoted to Airborne Infantry Reconnaissance, and his training included more than 115 parachute jumps. One jump would change his life forever.

Disabled veteran David Kaiser works at Ben's Diesel Service as a part of an occupational therapy New Start internship to learn new skills.

Hit ground head-first

During a night jump in Florida, Kaiser’s chute became caught and yanked him upside down. The chute partially opened and slowed his descent, but after a terrifying fall, Kaiser hit the ground head-first. “It could have easily killed me,” he says.

He was treated and returned to duty, but the devastating effects of Kaiser’s accident would affect him for years and gradually increase in severity:

  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • depression
  • 10 jobs in nine years
  • uncharacteristic fits of anger

“It was getting debilitating,” says Kaiser, who sought help from Veterans Affairs. He was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Local re-entry system for veterans

In October 2009, Kaiser was referred to Colorado State’s New Start Program in the Center for Community Partnerships, a service and outreach arm of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Applied Human Sciences.

New Start builds a local re-entry system that supports veterans in career and educational pursuits. The program now serves 25 military veterans, many of whom are students at CSU. Catherine Schelly, director of the Center for Community Partnerships, said the number of program participants is expected to climb rapidly as injured service members return from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of conflict.

Access skills, create support system

For the first time in nine years, Kaiser is confident about his future. “It’s wonderful, the support they’re giving me and other vets. Without this program, I’d be back to the way I was before, not really understanding what’s going on and wondering if I’d ever be able to hold a job.”

New Start employment specialist Deb Spotts has helped Kaiser access his skills and interests and worked with his parents and friends to create a support system. She also approached Marty Roubal, owner of Ben’s Diesel in Fort Collins, who offered an internship to Kaiser to determine his skill level and long-term interest in engine mechanics. A military veteran himself, Roubal says, “These veterans need help. Everybody has to do their part.”

Perfect career fit, grateful for help

On a recent morning, Kaiser and his fellow mechanics bantered as they went from engine to engine, diagnosing mechanical problems. A happy Kaiser says he feels at home in the garage. His boss adds that engine mechanics is a perfect career fit for him.

Kaiser is grateful for CSU’s New Start program and hopes other veterans seek similar help. “I had no idea somebody would take the time and care enough to get me back to being a productive member of society. I’ve never had anybody help me like this.”

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Spring 2010.