When asked to define his job, David Walker ’81 has a mantra.
“Our work is love made visible.”
Walker is the president and CEO of the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, a nonprofit that provides emergency financial aid to veterans wounded in combat. The organization focuses specifically on those who have served in the armed forces since 9/11.
Though war may not command the news coverage it initially did following the attacks, Walker says, that doesn’t mean it has less of an impact on those it touches.
“Combat-wounded veterans even today will be calling in or coming from our website, sending in an application and using words like ‘repossess,’ ‘foreclose,’ and ‘evict,’” he says. “What we do on average is to provide $1,500 to $1,600 to keep them under roof, to keep food on the table, to keep the electricity and heat on. So they don’t use words like ‘suicide,’ ‘abuse,’ ‘homelessness,’ and ‘divorce.’”
For the individuals the coalition helps, the stakes are high, sometimes even life and death. Sensing the gravity of the organization’s work, Walker approaches his role with the utmost reverence.
“We’re a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), non-religious, non-partisan organization,” he says. “But we are like a ministry here. We act like a ministry. You cannot have a position like this and not have a sense of duty or heart to really effectively accomplish this. Because you’re talking about an incredible level of trust—with policymakers, with individuals in the country, with your staff and your team and most importantly, with the veterans we serve.”
It is this trust that enables troubled veterans to reach out and talk frankly about their situations. Walker describes one instance in which a young man emailed him to ask for help.
“He goes, ‘Mr. Walker, I can’t even kill myself. I took a bottle of pills and woke up to three kids looking at me at Inova Fairfax Hospital in the emergency room,’” Walker says.
The man was having cognitive problems as a result of suffering injuries from improvised explosive devices and had fallen far behind on his bills. While the coalition couldn’t fix his life overnight, it could, at the very least, relieve some financial pressure. After he shared his story, it awarded him $10,000 to catch up on his payments.
“He’s doing better, he’s surviving,” Walker says. “He’s still got the issues associated with the anger and bitterness over the awful things he’s experienced, but he’s not suicidal. He’s connected into several groups locally to discuss these issues.”
In addition to sponsoring individuals, the coalition has helped fund various programs aimed at helping veterans around the country, including one at Notre Dame.
“Several years ago, we inked a program with the development office where we created a fellowship at the University for graduate-level fellowships,” he says.
At Notre Dame, Walker says, he received an education that “unleashed what was already there in my heart and gave me the opportunity to express it in a more meaningful way.”
What’s in Walker’s heart is a sense of duty, one that reflects one of the University’s most famous mottos.
“There’s a great sense of pride and dedication to fulfilling the mission of the University—God, Country, Notre Dame,” he says. “We’re God’s instruments to make this happen, to make that love made visible.”
To learn more about the work the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes does to help combat-wounded veterans, please visit saluteheroes.org.