PROSPERITY — Bouts of dizziness and crippling migraines are a part of life now for Joe Merritt, who served in Iraq and in the Gulf War.
But thanks to the work of The Freedom and Hope Foundation, the retired S.C. National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and veterans like him have a place of respite in Prosperity at the hunter’s lodge and hunting areas managed by a non-profit headed by Terry Cotney.
“I showed up here, handicapped and recovering and I fell in love with what Terry has been doing,” Merritt said. “I renewed my faith in God out in these woods.”
In 2004 the convoy in which Merritt was riding was hit by an improvised explosive device (EID) and he suffered traumatic brain injury.
Merritt had another TBI in a near fatal motorcycles wreck that included an open skull fracture, so he struggles at times cognitively and has problems with light and sound. Arthritis makes life a struggle for him too and he admittedly no longer goes into the woods by himself.
Now on medical disability, he received a medical discharge for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the TBI. He retired from the service in 2007.
On his first hunting trip he shook so badly from injury that he could not hold a rifle or bow and was walking with a cane.
But he could prop on a rail and shoot with the assistance of Freedom and Hope Foundation volunteers.
Being able to hunt helped him.
“Terry is like a second father to me now,” he said. “I want to come out here and help support him in any way that I am able.”
Merritt said it felt right to donate time back to the cause to help his other brothers and sisters in arms.
For Daniel Smith, a veteran readjusting to life after tours in Iraq, the hunts provide respite for himself and his service dog, Jefferson, who warns him of seizures.
A former dog handler for search and rescue and a former firefighter, Smith said the hunting trips and chances to be at one with nature are therapeutic for him as they are for many other Marines who are a part of Freedom and Hope Foundation’s outreach.
Cotney beamed with pride as he talked about the influence the veterans have on one another and discussed the many businesses, churches and civic groups that donate time, materials and money to the mission of providing recreational therapy to veterans, wounded veterans and children with disabling health conditions.
The group and its board provide free meals, accommodations, transportation and hunting supplies for the people it helps.
Cotney said 100 percent of funds donated to Freedom and Hope Foundation go to provide recreational therapy, so that’s one reason he depends on volunteers such as Merritt and Smith.
Cotney had several veterans help him recently to clear hunting trails, do maintenance on deer stands, and plant soybeans. Recently, several tree stands were donated and someone else donated a pontoon boat to the ministry.
He is grateful to all the people who continue to support the ministry and outreach.
For Cotney seeing the healing happening for the veterans is the ultimate reward.
Those interested in furthering this cause via financial support can mail donations to Freedom and Hope Foundation
598 Holland’s Landing Road, Prosperity, SC 29127.