Bernie Marcus: Healing the Wounds of War Through Philanthropy

  • Veterans

Ahead of Fourth of July celebrations earlier this month, Philanthropy Roundtable expressed its gratitude to our nation’s service members, who are integral in protecting our freedoms, and recognized the efforts of philanthropists like Bernie Marcus in helping veterans heal from war wounds. 

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot, is a well-known supporter of American service members and their families. The home improvement retailer is widely recognized as one of the most veteran-friendly companies in the country, and in his philanthropic work, Marcus helps injured veterans and first responders who have sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Elise Westhoff recently sat down with Marcus for an episode of the Roundtable’s interview series “Doers to Donors,” which highlights how innovators and self-made entrepreneurs are improving lives through charitable giving. During their conversation, Marcus discussed the origins of his support for our nation’s defenders and their families.

It all began in 2007. That year, while touring the Shepherd Center, a renowned neurorehabilitation hospital he had supported for years, Marcus met a young soldier with a spinal cord injury and a traumatic brain injury. Military doctors had told the soldier he would never walk again. 

“He was lying in a VA (Veterans Affairs) bed for seven months,” Marcus recalled. “They were doing nothing for him.”

Ultimately, thanks to his mother’s persistence, the injured veteran had secured a place at the Shepherd Center and within weeks, he was walking with braces.

This encounter had a profound impact on Marcus, who called Alana Shepherd, co-founder of the center, to inquire further about its treatment programs. She told him while she had many patients come to Shepherd for help, the treatments were often too expensive for them.

“I said let’s do something,” said Marcus. “And we started this [program] called Operation Share.”

Marcus provided the seed funding for Operation Share at the Shepherd Center, later renamed the SHARE Military Initiative, “a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on assessment and treatment for service members who have served in the U.S. military since September 11, 2001, regardless of discharge status.”

“Pretty soon we found that the real issue is the invisible one,” said Marcus.

By that, Marcus is referring to a growing triple threat for returning veterans: TBI, PTSD and veteran suicide, which has taken the lives of 65,000 veterans since 2010 – all things SHARE aims to address in its treatment programs.

Following the success of Operation Share, Marcus decided to further invest his time and money to create a “winning formula” for treating traumatic brain injuries. In partnership with the University of Colorado, Marcus launched the Marcus Institute for Brain Health, an “intensive, outpatient program [that] combines the best tools in traditional rehabilitation with complementary medicines.” Marcus intends for the institute to become the hub of a national network of treatment facilities dedicated to helping veterans with TBI and PTSD.

Through his philanthropic initiatives, Marcus intends to take care of as many as 20,000 veterans per year. A veteran of the Air National Guard, he says his passion to help those in service is inspired both by devotion to his country and the sacrifices of those who defend it. 

“I love this country,” Marcus said. “People [put] their lives on the line … fighting in wars. Going out there [and] putting their lives at risk, but coming back broken … and my heart goes out to them.” 

Marcus hopes the incredible success of the programs he helped build will inspire other philanthropists to join his cause.

“We have story after story of people [who were] ready to commit suicide [and] didn’t. They came to us and now [they] are able to earn a living [and] keep their families. And I can tell you that the only thing we’re lacking now are other philanthropists,” said Marcus. “We’re looking for people to do this all around the country [and] we’re asking philanthropists to step up.”

To watch the full episode of “Doers to Donors” featuring Bernie Marcus, click here.

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