No legs? No problem. VEP has wounded warriors rolling out on 2 wheels

Eric Dehm
June 28, 2018 - 12:48 pm

Courtesy Veteran Enhancement Project

Those who do it, including myself, will tell you: riding a motorcycle is the most liberating, therapeutic experience you can have on the open road. It's a full-body experience as well. Along with the wind hitting your face, you've got your hands on the throttle and brakes, your foot shifting gears, your weight shifting with every turn. You feel it everywhere.

But what happens if, say, you lost your hand to an IED in Iraq, or your leg to small-arms fire in Afghanistan? A vet in that situation who used to ride might think it's something you'll have to remember fondly but never do again. Similarly, if you always wanted to ride before losing a limb, you might assume it's nothing but a pipe dream now. 

The Veteran Enhancement Project (VEP) would like those veterans to know they are wrong. And they'd like to prove it to as many as possible. 

The small non-profit, comprised of a group of veterans and active duty military members working out of their home garages near Frederick, Maryland has spent the last few years working to get as many wounded warriors back on the road as they can. They do it by fixing bikes in need of repair, adapting bikes for those whose bodies came back from war differently, and even building bikes from scratch for those vets. 

Photo courtesy VEP

VEP's co-founder Tom Busche, who served 25 years in the National Guard ending in 2015, had been working on bikes for wounded warriors on his own for quite a while.  Then he realized that forming a team would facilitate getting as many vets as possible out on the road. He and his team, including co-founder Jon Harmon, a double amputee still serving in the Army, has been able to help far more veterans than Busche would have alone, which is what he it's all about to the retired SFC.   

"To get them back on the bike is the drive," Busche said during an appearance on ConnectingVets Morning Briefing radio show. "When you give it to them, you don't know whether to smile or cry... I feel good for them. The smile on their face. And to be able to get back on a bike and ride without back pain, or to be able to not worry about if they put their prosthetic down on the ground 'is it firmly footed, am I gonna fall over?'"

Providing that increased level of safety to vets, and the opportunity to ride again, was what made Navy nurse Bill Danchanko want to come on board. Through his work on deployment, and stateside he'd met more than his fair share of amputees. Just the thought of them not being able to do something they love was unbearable. 

"Now that painful reminder is sitting in your garage instead of an escape," Danchanko said. "So when I heard about this and talking with Tom, it sounded like just an amazing opportunity to get these guys back to where they were before they deployed. Now it's 'the enemy didn't take my freedom me, they may have taken my legs but they didn't take my ability to get on the road' and I wanted to be a part of that."

Photo courtesy VEP

Motorcycle dealerships and repair shops have also wanted to do their part to help out, much to Busche's initial surprise.

"I thought at first, man every single shop in the country is gonna hate us," Busche said. "They give us a ton of support. They're like 'oh we've got these old parts and we can't sell 'em, do you want 'em? Can you take 'em?'" 

Along with adapting the bikes for disabled vets, VEP is also in the business of helping all vets. They do that through helping a vet fix their bike or, even better, training them to work on it themselves.

"It's amazing how many people who own motorcycles don't know how to do simple maintenance on it," said Busche. "Somebody will take their bike into the dealer and have them put on a set of hand grips for $400. C'mon, y'know? One of the good things about the program is we'll bring you in and show you how to do it. We'll show you how to do the basic maintenance."

For Busche, Harmon, Danchanko and the rest of the VEP crew, it's all about getting as many vets as possible to live their lives. While VEP's main focus is motorcycles, they know that's not every vet's thing. But they'll still do anything they can to help.

"The main point of all this is to get the veteran off the couch," Busche said. "Quit eatin' pills, get off the couch. You're not dead. We need to do something. What do you wanna do? I'll find somebody to teach you how to do it. I don't care where it is, I will find it."

You can hear the full interview with Tom Busche and Bill Danchanko below. To download and listen later, click Share and select Download from the available options.

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