Ten years after losing his right leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq, former Army Staff Sgt. Michael Cain was back in the hospital.
The nerve damage in his left leg was so severe that doctors had to amputate that limb as well.
As he recovered, Cain found help in America's Fund, which is part of the Semper Fi Fund, a charity that provides immediate and continuing support to critically wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families.
"They've helped me a lot," Cain said. "I needed financial assistance, and they helped me out with bills that were stacked up or money to fix the transmission in my truck."
The organization also sends Cain gas cards every month to help him get to and from medical appointments at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"They've definitely helped me more than anybody has," Cain said.
For the first time, the Semper Fi Fund and its offshoot, America's Fund, are at this year's Association of the United States Army's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The goal is to get the word out about the help the group can provide to troops and their families, said Wendy Lethin, the group's vice president for community outreach.
The group can be found at AUSA Booth 667.
The Semper Fi Fund was formed in 2004 by a group of Marine wives, led by Karen Guenther, who wanted to help the first wave of wounded Marines returning from Iraq to Camp Pendleton, California.
"We started with welcome bags, but it quickly became evident that our service members needed more than welcome bags," Lethin said. "There were a lot of gaps to fill."
The group provides help right from a service member's bedside, so they and their families can focus on recovery, she said.
"Some people don't have sick pay, they don't have vacation pay," Lethin said.
The group provides assistance with everything from paying bills to transportation. They also offer help with modifications to homes and vehicles, and even providing babysitters to help service members and spouses get to medical appointments, Lethin said.
In the beginning, the Semper Fi Fund focused on Marines and their families.
"Through the years, we tried to see how we could do more," Lethin said.
In 2012, the Semper Fi Fund expanded to help other critically injured troops, from any service, through a separate program called America's Fund.
"We didn't have the resources to open it up until 2012," Lethin said.
As both programs have grown, so have the services they provide. There are sports programs for wounded warriors, horsemanship programs, education and career-transition assistance, and retreats and resources for caregivers.
Since 2004, the program has helped more than 14,500 service members, distributing $117 million in assistance, Lethin said.
Another program offered by the Semper Fi Fund and America's Fund is its Veteran 2 Veteran program, manned by combat veterans, that connects vets in need with services, said BJ Ganem, the program lead.
"Usually they're at a crisis point, so we put them in touch with other veteran organizations or talk them through and normalize the issue they're going through," Ganem said.
Ganem, a former Marine sergeant who lost his left leg in 2004 on Thanksgiving night 2004 in Iraq, first connected with the Semper Fi Fund shortly after he was wounded.
"When I got sent back to the States, somehow my pay got turned off, and it took them three months to figure it out," he said. "Semper Fi Fund helped me pay my bills so I didn't lose my house or my car."
The group also installed nonslip floors, handles and a bench in his shower, said Ganem, who started working for the Semper Fi Fund in 2012.
That's when he met Cain, as the two played football together on a wounded warrior amputee team. Ganem connected Cain to the help he needed.
"It helped me get back to financial stability," Cain said. "I was able to save the income I had coming in, and it also compelled me to help other wounded warriors as well."
Ganem said it is gratifying to see veterans connect with one another.
"One of the hardest things I see in the veteran population is they miss their squad, they miss their unit," he said. "The most dynamic thing about the Semper Fi Fund is that we meet the service member where they're at, find out what's best for them and get them back to where they want to be. We're not just another welfare program. We're trying to help them build their confidence or a new career or a life in retirement."