LUMBERTON — After emerging from a pool of nearly 6,000 nominees, a Lumberton native was awarded the nation’s second highest civilian award by President Obama on Friday for his charitable work with veterans with disabilities.
“It’s a true honor to be able to receive this award, but I don’t look at this award just being for me,” said Michael Dorman, the founder and executive director of Military Missions In Action, in advance of the presentation. “I look at this award as being for all of those service men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and all the volunteers who work with me and make it all happen.”
Dorman was among 13 people presented the Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House on Friday.
MMIA is a non-profit based in Fuquay-Varina, where Dorman, wno lived in Lumberton until fifth grade, now lives. Dorman, a 20-year veteran of the Coast Guard, established the program in 2008 and has completed more than 100 home modification projects to enable disabled veterans from World War II through Afghanistan live independently. He has provided $2 million in services that have helped more than 15,000 veterans and active duty troops.
Dorman said that 65 percent of his referrals come from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s twofold why I do what I do,” Dorman said. “I do it because I feel like I was called to do it. I didn’t know anyone from Iraq or Afghanistan, nor did I know anyone that was hurt. Service men and women have made sacrifices so that we can live free and independently and we as a nation have a duty to honor their duty and take care of them. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you are young or old, Democrat or Republican — as an American you have an obligation to help an injured veteran and give them the quality of life they deserve.”
Dorman’s grandfather lived in assisted living homes before his death.
“That’s part of the reason why I do this,” Dorman said. “Many World War II veterans like my grandfather just want to die at home and they can’t without our help. If I can go in and retrofit a bathroom so a veteran can live at home, then that’s the right thing to do. We do what we can to make wishes come true.”
Dorman said his calling came while sitting on the porch of a rental cottage in Hunting Island, S.C., during 2008.
“I was watching the sun rise and it just clicked,” Dorman said. “Later on that week I saw a news clip showing a service member outfitting his house to be handicap accessible for his combat-wounded wife prior to his own deployment to Iraq. That cemented it in my mind that I had to do something to help.”
His projects began soon afterward.
“What’s more rewarding than changing a home is seeing a change in the individual,” Dorman said. “To see that because we are there helping a little bit, it restores hope that their life is going to get better.”
The most memorable transformation involved a Marine in Beulaville.
“He spent 80 percent of his time locked in his shed because that’s where he felt safe,” Dorman said. “We did extensive home repairs — everything was falling apart. By the time we left six weeks later he was no longer locking himself in his shed. And the best part is now he is out there helping other veterans in similar situations. Seeing him change in such a short time was worth the $22,000 we spent and the 1,000 volunteer hours.”
It isn’t just the home transformations that Dorman seeks.
“We work on advocacy,” Dorman said. “I’m concerned with 20 years from now. We don’t know the effects of traumatic brain injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We have over 450,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering.
“In World War II everyone knew what was going on. In Vietnam even though people were divided, they still knew what was going on. Awareness of our troops ailments for this generation doesn’t exist. We need to start education now or else we’re going to fall apart.”
There are currently five programs that MMIA offers:
— The Fill The Footlocker Program: MMIA teams up with civic organizations, companies and businesses to gather donations for troops overseas. The organization then ships more than 200 care packages to Afghanistan each month.
— The Homes For Healing Program: MMIA completes home modification for veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI. The modification can be as simple as fixing a leaky faucet or remodeling a veteran’s entire home.
— Operation Building Hope: Veterans suffering from physical disabilities such as loss of limb or immobility of limbs gain assistance through the construction of ramps, rails and bathroom modifications.
— Military Child Access Assistance Program: Military insurance does not fund access assistance for dependent children, therefore “we started going in and doing those things for active duty members.”
— Operation Warrior Golf: MMIA offers physically and mentally disabled veterans a free one-week golf clinic. “It teaches the veterans how to manage their stress and anger in a practical way so there is less domestic violence,” Dorman said.
The Presidential Citizens Medal was established in 1969 to recognize Americans who have performed a service for their country and community. Nominations come from people whose lives have been affected by their service.
“I was surprised by the nomination,” Dorman said. “But this is all I do. I wouldn’t even classify it as a job because I don’t do it for the money. I do it because the veterans need me and with 880,000 in North Carolina alone — I’ve got a lot of work to do because we aren’t done yet.”
Dorman currently has 24 projects on his list that need funding and volunteers to make them possible. To find out how you can help, visit http://militarymissionsinaction.org