12/13/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

The (Purple) Heart of a Lion

Social media is influential. I think we've all heard this before and when it's said, a sort of understanding takes over us and we continue on with our lives.

Some of my closest friends and family members tout me a "social media addict." Rightfully so; I spend the majority of my day as a communications professional on social outlets, perusing news, blogs, Twitter feeds and otherwise so, thus, I'm fine with their dubbing.

When I get asked, "Do you ever tire of social media? Does your brain start to hurt? Are you ever fully 'off'?," I have to laugh, because some of my greatest sources of inspiration come from social media.

@TheVerardos are one such source.

Admittedly, I found Michael & Sarah before they were "officially" @TheVerardos; they were married on October 12, 2013. Their outrageously cute Golden Retrievers and wedding preparation details initially drew me in, but this is not a story about wedding dresses or sweet dogs.


Sgt. Michael Verardo served with the 82nd Airborne as an infantryman in Afghanistan. He was catastrophically wounded in two IED attacks ten days apart in 2010 at the age of 25.

"Mike literally gave an arm and leg for his country. He is what is considered a Priority 1 (P1) veteran -- a two-time Purple Heart recipient and permanently disabled from combat," explains his wife, Sarah Verardo. Sarah manages Mike's care, as he cannot advocate for himself.

Michael considers it an honor to have served a country he deeply loves.

"He loves this country so much so that he proudly and happily gave two limbs for it. What goes on now should be very simple -- fast access to medical care," says Sarah.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for the medically retired Verardo and thousands of his fellow veterans trying to receive treatment from The Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA).

"Mike's P1 status is supposed to mean that he has easier access than most. I find this [fact] terrifying, because we have a very hard time getting a straight answer from the VA. The system to get prosthetics is not a straight line. They are truly great people, but by and large, it's just that -- a system -- and there are breakdowns."

It's easy to read about the ongoing discrepancies of veterans' healthcare rights online, in the paper, and even in this article right now, without comprehending the depths of the struggle. It's even easier to watch them unfold on television during political speeches and on the news. I'm as guilty of it as the next person, because, like so many, I don't face it day in and day out.

The difficulty comes in living it, seeing it unfold before your very own eyes -- putting a face to the proverbial name -- and answering the ever-present, "What's next?" for our country's veterans.

For me, Michael and Sarah Verardo are the face of this ongoing fight and the answer to this question. As in many situations, perspective is paramount.

Finding strength in friends, family and, sometimes complete strangers, the Verardos do not focus on what they don't have but, rather, what they could have lost.

Mike always tells me that despite how much the Taliban took from him, his goal is to always feel that he gained more than he lost and I know that's true for both of us. We've gained faith, patriotism and hope that we could have never dreamed of and although the days are long and challenging, my husband is still here. I know too many military wives who have to deal with a loss I can't fathom.

Their social accounts reflect this optimism. Showcasing their loyal (and understanding) dogs, shedding light on living with a battle-inflicted disability and the advances in technology for handicapped veterans, inspiration can be found everywhere.


"We are a generation that relies heavily on social media -- especially in regards to military life -- from Skyping and emailing during deployments to connecting with other military spouses during the transition into civilian life," says Sarah.

"Since the Wounded Warrior (WW) community is a small one, it's been helpful for me to connect online with other WW wives and compare and share tools that get us through this journey."

I think it's safe to say that the Verardos understand the power and weight of social media and are using their influence wisely. In fact, without the use of social media, we would have never been introduced, nor talked or interviewed and you would not be reading this article on a social forum. It is very powerful, indeed.

If you, too, are inspired, you can follow their journey here.

"Courage doesn't always roar, courage sometimes is the quiet voice that says, 'I will try again tomorrow.'"