Scott MacDonald - Graduate

May 10, 2011
Scott MacDonald
Scott MacDonald - Graduate

Scott MacDonald, the Wounded Warrior Program's first fellow to graduate, embraces change.

MacDonald's life changed drastically – for the worse and the better – one night in 1998.

MacDonald, a Navy radioman, was on liberty that November night. He was driving back to his Virginia base from a family visit in Connecticut. He pulled over to assist at a multi-vehicle accident, helping to stabilize several injured drivers and treating wounds with torn clothing. Afterward, his adrenaline drained and the drive stretching into the early morning hours, MacDonald fell asleep at the wheel. The crash left him paralyzed from the chest down.

MacDonald quickly resolved to make the most of his situation. He trained himself to do triathlons with racing wheelchairs and looked for ways to help other injured veterans. He became a peer mentor for other spinal injury patients and their families, carrying a blue book for signatures of those he helped. The work became MacDonald's new mission, his new purpose.

"We have to work to our greatest ability to help others," he says.

That commitment to service mirrors the impetus that drove MacDonald to enlist in the Navy as a 23-year-old. From the deck of an amphibious ship, MacDonald saw parts of the world he never imagined he would. He learned about himself, and he learned about others. "I was able to see how so many diverse backgrounds and people can come together and work as one team. The military is the most diverse company you'll ever work for."

MacDonald's interest in helping others pushed him toward the Wounded Warrior Program. As a fellow, he worked on veteran affairs and homeland security issues in Rep. Chris Shays's Connecticut office. When Shays lost reelection, MacDonald parlayed his talents into a similar fellowship in the office of Shays's campaign opponent, Rep. Jim Himes.

MacDonald explains the switch in simple terms. "It's not about politics," he says. "It's about the constituents." MacDonald continued his work helping veterans face a multitude of issues from finding counseling to cutting through benefits red tape. He recounts a grateful call from one injured veteran's daughter as confirmation that his job was worthwhile. "It just makes your day to see that smile and get that thanks."

Before his fellowship with Himes was up, MacDonald was faced with yet another change. He was offered a full-time job as a Veterans Service Representative with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Connecticut. In that position, he quickly gained respect for his new employer. "I never realized how hard they work to get each veteran what they deserve."

In his current job, MacDonald sorts through complex benefits claims and offers comfort to older veterans who call looking for conversation. "I don't mind," MacDonald says of the latter. "If that makes their day, it's worth it to me."