We've all heard President Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again." But one couple is fighting to "Make the Veterans Administration great again."
CBN News visited the military's first active-duty blind officer, who is using the story of his injury and recovery to be a voice for other veterans.
In 2005, Army Major Scotty Smiley was in Northern Iraq when a suicide bomber set off an explosion that left Smiley completely blind.
"I woke up a week later in Walter Reed hospital, and as the drugs began to wear off I began to realize that my wife is here and something is wrong, like my eyes— I can't see--I truly began to understand the extent of the injuries. I realized my life would never be the same physically, and it was fear," he said.
"I'd say that was the day the bomb went off in my life as well. It was really challenging us, not only our faith but what are we going to do with this," said Smiley's wife, Tiffany.
Hope Unseen and the Moment of Forgiveness
Smiley received a Purple Heart while still recovering at Walter Reed. He grew angry and depressed as he faced a new life without vision. In those hard moments his wife, Tiffany, drew close to her faith.
"I went back to my room and I prayed, not for his eyesight, but for his heart--I didn't care about his eyesight, which I know sounds crazy, but I cared about his heart and God to fill it stronger than before," she said.
Smiley realized he would never get over losing his sight without forgiveness.
"I had to forgive the man who blew himself up. It was something I knew I had to do to take away resentment, anger waking up blind every morning. Once I made that decision, that's really when my recovery began."
The couple took on a new lifestyle and perspective as Smiley recovered. They launched a ministry called, "Hope Unseen," and are now traveling the country speaking to different groups about overcoming obstacles. They're also working with government officials to improve care for veterans.
"Scotty wrote Hope Unseen -- a sort of memoir about his journey -- our journey together, and I started to see Scotty share his story and it was not only changing Scotty, but changing other people coming up to Scotty and crying and saying thank you for sharing his story -- I started to see something was happening," Tiffany said.
Improving the VA system
The Smileys also aim to improve the VA system, recalling the constant hurdles they endured while trying to seek benefits.
"It was just daunting, we had to fight for every little care and resource," Tiffany said.
"I started to question why is this so difficult and how do I get help on this? And someone said, 'well, hire a lawyer to navigate the VA benefit system,' and that's when I said absolutely not, this is not okay," she added.
"I don't know how many veterans affair systems in which none talks to each other..no VA systems talk to another. So from Spokane where we used to live and now were are in the Wala Walla (Washington) they don't transfer records. It's a very complicated system and to simplify it would only help the veterans," Smiley said.
President Trump Meets with the Smileys
Recently, the Smileys were invited to the White House to share their story and their experience with the Veterans Administration with President Trum.
"He was actually sort of shocked to hear first hand what our service members go through. He couldn't believe the suicide rate when he was briefed on that. That alone shows there is a culture issue going on here and together we can address it," Tiffany said.
Since that meeting, Congress passed the VA Accountability Act, and the President signed it. The law makes it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees.
The President also just signed an executive order for a multi-billion dollar initiative to modernize information technology and records at the VA, something veterans say is long overdue.
Life is Worth Living
Smiley continues to live life to the fullest, like completing an Iron Man marathon with his wife and brother-in-law by his side, motivating him and cheering him on.
"It was a blast, the year that it took me to train and the 16 hours to complete it was a little less enjoyable and there were times I wanted to quit, but it was her at the end saying 'Scotty you're not doing this for yourself, but those that also did and are still fighting,' that's a time your spouse is correct,"' he said.
His brother in law also helped him along the way.
"My brother-in-law, I pulled his arm…to go right. On my bicycle I have a tandem where I was the engine in the back and my partner in the front. On the run we ran side by side and we have a stretchy tube for when we go left, we go left and when we slow down… for me it was amazing we crossed the finish line on time."
Continuing to work as a team, the Smileys want to use their experience to show others they can persevere through hope and focusing not on what is seen, but what is unseen.
"I would say hope comes from God. I had post-traumatic stress and I didn't believe I deserved it, and that my family deserved it, but my hope and bedrock was God. And I found life was worth living," Smiley said.