In 2003, Robert “B.J.” Jackson was deployed to Iraq while serving with the Iowa National Guard. While there, a roadside bomb exploded, destroying his Humvee and causing a traumatic brain injury (which left him with PTSD) and the loss of both of his legs.
Back home in Clive, Iowa after grueling rehab, B.J.’s wife Abby thought he could use a night out. The two went to a nightclub for New Year’s Eve, but the bouncer turned them away, saying that the custom tennis shoes Jackson wore on his prosthetics didn’t meet the establishment’s dress code.
Abby protested, but B.J. wanted to slink away. When the club’s owner found out what had happened, he apologized and paid to fly B.J. to a veteran’s event. More importantly, though, the incident sparked an idea in B.J., who had been demoralized by his injuries.
“That night gave me a new outlook,” he tells Daniel Finney of the Des Moines Register. “I was ready to just let it go, like there was something wrong with me. But my wife and my friends said, ‘Hey, no, that isn’t OK.’ I realized there’s a stigma on people with disabilities. And I was going to do something about it.”
B.J. and his wife, who now live in Florida with their six children, founded The Right to Bear Stumps, an organization that raises awareness about the challenges faced by people with disabilities and raises money to help them. B.J., who struggled to learn to talk again after his brain injuries, is now a motivational speaker — delivering his message at places like churches and the Harley Davidson rally in Sturgis, S.D.
Through the Right To Bear Stumps, B.J. also helps build modifications to houses to accommodate disabilities and organizes golf outings for people with prosthetic limbs. Although he still struggles with issues stemming from his injuries, he jokes with Finney, “The biggest challenge I face right now is getting all the kids in the van.”