Warrior Story: Mark O'Brien
In November of 2004, I was serving my second tour of duty in in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through the armor of my Humvee. Although I was lucky to make it out alive, the attack left me without my right arm and leg.
Despite the trauma and setbacks, I tried hard not to lose my sense of hope. At the time, I wrote to my parents and told them, “Don't cry. I'm going to learn from this. And I'm going to teach others.”
Since that day, I have tried to make good on that commitment. After my initial recovery, I began to work as a dispatcher for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and have given motivational speeches across the country.
For many injured veterans, it is often the everyday tasks that present ongoing challenges. For those like me who use prosthetics or topical medications, the simple act of changing clothes can be a reminder of all we have been through. Thankfully, Congress has taken initial steps toward updating and improving the Clothing Allowance benefit through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Brian Neuman/Mark O’Brien Clothing Allowance Improvement Acts, currently being considered by Congress, would put us a step closer to ensuring injured veterans receive the benefits they need and deserve without any undue bureaucratic hurdles. The bills (S. 2513/H.R. 4772) would:
- Ensure the VA provides a clothing allowance to veterans with prosthetics, orthopedic devices, or skin medicine that damages their clothing or requires alterations, provided that their condition stemmed from military service. Most of the eligible veterans have lifelong conditions that warrant the allowance. Last year, about 40,000 veterans were approved for a clothing allowance.
- Reduce the annual claim filing burden. Currently, veterans are required to reapply for the benefit every year. If passed, payments would automatically continue each year until the veteran elects to no longer receive payments or VA determines the veteran is no longer eligible.
Given that I use prosthetics, having to apply for a clothing allowance every year is very ineffective. This is especially true for those of us with traumatic brain injuries, who often forget to apply. While these changes to the Clothing Allowance program may seem simple, I know firsthand they will have a profound impact on the lives of thousands of veterans across the country. These warriors deserve our gratitude and respect, but above all, they deserve dignity in their everyday lives and the assurance that the VA and our elected leaders have their back.
To honor the commitment these warriors have made to help their fellow veterans in need, the passage of the Clothing Allowance Act of 2021 is one of WWP's legislative priorities during the 117th Congress.