“When I lost my vision to a roadside bomb in Iraq, I knew it was just a matter of time when I’d be facing retirement,” said Eric Marts, Master Sergeant (Ret.). “I was trying to find any reason I could to stay in the military.”
Like many supporters of the Blinded Veterans Association, Eric’s family is a military family. Every generation of his family — going all the way back to the Revolutionary War — has served. It’s in his DNA.
“I knew, one way or another, I wanted to continue to serve,” he said. “But there’s not that much room for a blind infantry sergeant. That’s when I started making plans for how I could take care of others: the soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors, members of the Coast Guard — and their families. One thing led to another.”
He began getting requests to tell his story. “I was never going to say no,” he said. “I’m a soldier.” When he spoke, audiencesresponded positively, and Eric decided to use his voice to become a voice for veterans. He does public presentations as a public service. And he hosts a talk radio show exploring veterans’ issues. His show, “Heroes of the Heartland” can be heard on WDAY News Talk Radio 970 AM in Fargo, ND, and on the web at
He doesn’t stop there. “Washington moves pretty slowly sometimes. I want to help veterans who are blind or disabled get the special adaptations they need to keep their homes safe. Simple things like intercoms so they know who’s at their door. I have friends who are severely burned and scarred — sunlight is now painful, and after all the skin grafts they’ve had, they no longer sweat. They could use special windows or netting so they can go outside on the deck. It’s important for these veterans to get outside.”
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited Eric to join her at President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2014. “To be able to attend such an honorable place where freedom and liberty and justice aren’t just ideals — this is where it happens,” he said. He visited the Pentagon, Walter Reed Hospital, and met with influential lawmakers, advocating on behalf of veterans’ needs.
Recently, with members of BVA’s Operation Peer Support, Eric had the opportunity to share his personal experiences with researchers studying the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on vision. The vision researchers attending the conference were from 75 nations, and their future findings have the potential to benefit anyone with TBI-related vision loss.
The most meaningful part of his service is the one-on-one with veterans. He listens. “I visit military and VA hospitals,” he said. “I do peer mentoring over the phone. I get calls from doctors at the VA. Sometimes, I get calls at 2 a.m. — a veteran is going through something hard and they need someone to talk to.”
Men and women who have served in the military understand what it means to “be there” for someone else. In battle, it’s a matter of life or death. For those who have sacrificed, life after service can be a different kind of challenge. But having people they know they can depend on makes all the difference. That’s at the core of BVA.
Blind veterans of WWII founded the Blinded Veterans Association. The motto: “Blinded veterans helping blinded veterans” stands true to this day. You might say: it is in our DNA.