Injured Afghanistan veteran finally gets what he deserves

Franz Walkup is a hero, period. He was shot five times, he had to undergo 78 surgeries and he managed to stay positive all through these difficult times.

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Due to his injuries, Franz had to not only had to adapt emotionally, but also physically to his new life. However, there are still some people who don’t believe he is deserving of an adaptive home. Sounds pretty crazy right? How come is a war hero who was also awarded a Purple Heart can not be qualified for the home that would fit his needs? How is it even possible that there are certain organizations that find him to be ‘not injured enough’ to receive the help that he needs? It’s literally mind blowing to think that a soldier, who sacrificed his life, his body actually, for his country will not be granted with the most basic thing in the world – a roof on top of his head, however one that will be suitable for his new condition. When Franz Walkup joined the military, it was because he wanted to continue his dead brother’s legacy. His older brother, Frank, was killed a few years earlier while serving. When Franz joined the army he knew that it was dangerous, but he probably never imagined he would get shot five times. Miraculously he survived that incident and he was able to return home to his family and wife. It took him around three years to recover, but he knew that his road to full recovery was still a long one. The one thing that was missing was an adaptive home which would help him move around freely in the space and help him gain his independence back. After trying to fund his way to purchasing an accessible home, the Walkups have found help in the least expected places. This is the emotional journey of Franz Walkup to getting the key to the home that he is so deserving of.

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Sgt. Franz Walkup

Franz Walkup can pretty much survive anything. If the young man was shot five times and underwent nearly 80 surgeries, that makes him pretty much invincible. There is one group, however, which finds him not to be heroic enough. Walkup was a a fire support specialist in the 173rd Airborne and he knew things could go wrong, he just didn’t realize how bad everything will go down, and how betrayed he would feel after serving his country. In a way, getting shot wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to Walkup.

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The reason he joined

Sergeant Walkup decided to enlist in the army for probably the saddest and most sincere reasons in the world. His brother fell in Iraq. Back in 2007, his family received the worst news any family could ever receive. Two soldiers in uniform notified the family that Frank, Franz’s older brother was killed in a roadside explosion when he was just 23 years old. Frank’s death inspired his younger brother to join the army.

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Ambushed

When Franz enrolled in the army, he was doing it out of the purest reason and probably deep inside never imagined that anything bad could really happen to him. He certainly never thought that he would be ambushed in Afghanistan and shot five times during the incident. It was on September 29th, 2012 that he got shot while serving in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. It took almost two weeks to get him safely to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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Time to heal

The wounded soldier spent more than six months at the medical center where he endured no less than 78 procedures and surgeries. His recovery was long but worth the wait. On May 22, 2013, he sat up for the first time on his own since his injury. With much function lost in both his legs as well as his stomach injuries, the soldier had to re-learn basic movements such as walking.

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One of four brothers

You could say that the Walkup family is one patriotic family. All four brothers have served in the military. After the death of the older brother, 1LT Frank Bland Walkup in 2007, Sgt. Franz decided to continue the family’s legacy by signing up as well. His twp younger brothers also served in the army as officers. Franz attended Basic Training in Kentucky as well as Advanced Individual Training for Fire Support at a base in Oklahoma.

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The injuries

serge can only imagine what it’s like to get show five times. The Sergeant suffered from injuries in the right pelvis, damaged his spleen and lost all function in his leg below the knee. He was shot in his back, in his stomach and his legs. It’s a miracle he’s even alive today after he was shot by Afghan National Army soldiers. When he was hospitalized, he knew it will be a long road to recovery.

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A real-life hero

After spending a couple of months in the ICU and undergoing 78 procedures, Walkup was awarded a purple heart for his service and sacrifice. In the eyes of the military and the President, he was perceived as a hero for surviving a gun battle in 2012. His leg was amputated and it was clear that Franz will never lead the same life that he was used to. He will have to adjust to his new life both physically and financially.

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The Purple Heart Award

The Purple Heart recipient was injured in 2012 during a gun battle is one of 7,027 Purple Heart recipients who had received the honorable award during or after the Afghanistan War. This special award is a U.S. army decoration that is given in the name of the President to any member of the U.S Armed Forces to those who were either killed or wounded while serving.

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More surgery

December 2013 was another defining month in Franz Walkup’s recovery. He had a colostomy reversal performed on him and it was necessary for increasing his chances at recovering from the internal injuries. Thankfully, the surgery was successful and Franz was another step closer to getting his life back, or at least walking like a normal person. However, suddenly he developed a fever which was as a result of a leak in his colon.

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Bad news leak

His body didn’t react very well to the leak. His body formed a pocket around the area that was leaking causing his heart rate to rise. His fever was as high as 105.1 degrees. After the doctors managed to drain the pocket, his temperature fell back to normal. That was just another bump in this long and windy road of Franz to recovery. There’s no doubt that his mental strength helped him keep going. And having his wife by his side.

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Walkup

Every step, literally, in Franz’s recovery is crucial. On February 7th, 2014, just a week before Valentine’s Day, the war veteran made his first steps unassisted by either a human, crutches or a walker. We can only imagine how excited and emotional he must have been. One month later, he was already walking with one crutch only. In April of that same year, he had a surgery that was meant to help him improve mobility and range of motion.

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Shannon Walkup

Throughout the entire incident as well as his recovery, the one person that was by his side the whole time and unconditionally was his wife, Shannon. When Shannon was notified about her husband’s condition she tole her friend: ‘at least it was a phone call and not a knock on the door.’ Together with his friends and family, she didn’t leave his bedside when he was hospitalized.

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Going home

After he was making enough progress, Franz returned home, but you can only imagine the high costs of his procedures as well as the ons he will have to face soon while trying to build a new life for himself. He was critically injured during his second tour in Afghanistan and his new state required him to change his life around. He was in need of an accessible and adaptive home.

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Not wounded enough

Surprisingly enough, the wounded sergeant who had to undergo 78 surgeries and was awarded with the honorable Purple Heart award, was apparently not deserving of a new adaptive home. In other words, Franz Walkup was not ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for a home in the eyes of different non-profit organizations. While he did manage to get nearly $70,000 from the Veteran’s Association, it was not even close to be enough to help him build the adaptive home that he needed.

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Disabled

Being wheelchair bound is hard enough, both emotionally and physically, so we can’t even imagine what it was like for the Walkups to worry about financial issues while having to deal with everything else they were going through: ‘From being turned away and being told that, you know, you’re not injured enough, the sacrifice wasn’t great enough, now to this.’ Walkup knew he had to turn to fundraisers that help wounded veterans.

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Looking for funding

Life after surgeries was more burdensome that Franz ever imagined. They first turned to a fundraising website called GoFundMe and started a campaign in order to raise $50,000 for their home. Soon, there was over $13,000 generated in donations within just a few days. Franz and Shannon lived in Gaithersburg, Maryland and they were hoping to relocate to an accessible home. They wanted a house that will be wide enough for him to go around in his wheelchair. He needed a house that has 36-inch doors. Unfortunately, Franz didn’t raise enough money for his needs and his family.

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The gray area

Apart from turning to GoFundMe, the Walkups also set up a Facebook page in hopes to raise more money. The social media group is called Staying Strong for Franz Walkup which now has nearly 5,000 members. Franz has been denied over and over again by all kinds of non-profit organizations, however he always tried to remain positive about his future. It was his good attitude that may have helped his luck turn around for the better.

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Meeting Gary

Actor Gary Sinise, who will forever be mostly familiar for his role as Lieutenant Dan Taylor in the successful film Forrest Gump, must have taken his role very seriously and he has decided to dedicate his persona life to helping wounded soldiers of the U.S. Armed Forces in any way possible. One day, Shannon Walkup couldn’t believe it when she heard Gary on the other side of the line. Gary told Shannon that he was going to help them build a home.

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Welcome home

Scott Schaeperkoetter of the Gary Sinise Foundation once said: ‘Our goal is to deliver a home that meets the needs of veterans. Thanks to our donors. When we build these homes we depend on all our national partners.’ The Walkups finally got the key to their dream home which was completed on December 22nd, 2016. In the emotional ‘home welcome’ ceremony that was held by the foundation, Schaeperkoetter had an emotional speech saying: ‘Mr. Walkup, thank you for your service, thank you for everything you have done for us and our country and welcome home.’

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Building a life

The house will make me more independent, it will make my life a lot easier…With the counter tops a certain height so it easier accessible for me in a wheelchair, from having the bathroom safe for me to use without having the fear that I might fall and break my hip.’ Shannon added: ‘It’s everything. It’s a forever home. It’s where we’re going to live. It’s where we are going to have children and it’s where we’re going to grow old. The day can’t come soon enough for us to move by to Tennessee.’

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Gaining independence back

Today, we are turning over this home to the Walkups, and it’s the 31st home that the Gary Sinise Foundation has turned over to a wounded veteran.’ Most houses usually have narrow doorways and they are not fit for wheelchairs. This new house has everything that Franz needs in order to move around freely in his wheelchair. Franz can now get through the hallways without bumping into walls. Franz has now gained a bit of his independence back, which is more important than anything.

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In before Christmas

Jim Shubert, board member of the Gary Sinise Foundation has also spoken in the ceremony saying: ‘These homes are here to provide independence and dignity and freedom for our recipient, the same freedom that you have scarified for and provided for.’ Franz couldn’t be more excited about moving in: ‘It’s surreal, this doesn’t happen to everybody, being in before Christmas, just adds a special piece to it.’

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Ellen

Back in 2014, Franz and his wife, Shannon, were guests on the famous talk show Ellen. Franz told the talk show queen all about his story of why he decided to join the army, how he got injured and everything he had been through to get better. Ellen got really emotional over how positive he was through all this time while many people would have given up a long time ago. Ellen already had a big surprise in store for her special guest.

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He doesn’t stop

Franz told Ellen how he used to love sports and how he was a very competitive person. Franz is not going to let his new condition change anything. He is not feeling sorry for himself and he literally climbing walls. He does obstacle course races and hand cycling. It helps his motivation and it helps him stay strong emotionally and physically. People actually call him up when they’re feeling down. Franz helps others see the light which is amazing.

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A little help from Ellen

Ellen is known for being touched by all kinds of stories and she loves to show her appreciation by helping others. She decided to surprise the war veteran, who had spent months in the ICU and has undergone nearly 80 surgeries. She knew he and his wife were $15,000 short from getting their dream accessible home and so she partnered with Shutterfly and together they donated that amount to the Walkups.

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What a ride

Shannon’s been here with me through thick and thin. I think I would label our first three months of our marriage one of the toughest parts … and we’ve finally come to the end of it and still be in love with each other, still supporting each other. It’s been a rough road but we finally got on some smooth pavement’. Franz and his wife can finally live the life that they want and deserve comfortably. Franz’s short-term goals is to be able to walk and to train other soldiers. His long-term goal is to star a family with his wife.

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