Pam Estes and Jason Ehrhart

Headshot of Pam Estes and Jason Ehrhart
Caregiver and U.S. Army Veteran

The events of 9/11 made Jason Ehrhart angry — so angry that he enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school. In September of 2005, he was sent to Iraq as an infantry mortarman. Three months later, life for Jason and his family took a devastating turn.

While traveling to a polling station for the first elections in Baghdad, the Humvee he was riding in was blown up by anti-tank mines. Jason was blown out of the top of the vehicle and landed several yards away. Both of his legs were broken, he had third-degree burns covering 60% of his body, and he slipped into a coma that lasted for three months. When he came out of the coma, one of his legs had been amputated and he couldn’t swallow or speak.

Jason’s parents, Pam and Mike Estes, were about to embark on a long, hard, frustrating journey. It began in an intensive care unit thousands of miles from their home and led to them becoming full-time caregivers for their adult son.

Pam and Mike recall that the combination of caring for Jason, juggling full-time careers, and raising their teenage daughter was an emotional rollercoaster. His wounds and traumatic brain injury (TBI) meant that he could do virtually nothing for himself.

The Estes family credits Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) caregiver retreats with helping them begin their own recoveries and the Independence Program (IP) with helping them turn the corner to a more normal life. Jason’s IP life coach engages Jason five days a week, working on different therapies, getting him out and about in the community, and giving his parents much-needed time away for themselves.

“Jason’s IP coach gave us permission not to feel guilty about taking time for ourselves instead of devoting 100% of our time to caring for our son,” says Mike.

Since entering the Independence Program, Jason and his family have participated in Soldier Ride® and attended several sporting events — and Jason even learned how to snow ski. His next mission is to continue to make progress.

“Every time he does an event, he comes back and his therapist says he’s leapt to the next level from a cognitive standpoint,” says Pam. “Thanks to Wounded Warrior Project, my son has a coach to help him recover as much as possible and to really enjoy life.”

Jason says, “Thanks to WWP, I have someone I can spend time with who isn’t my mom and dad. Someone I can play Xbox with and do fun things.”