DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Debbie Zelman
Bobby Ehrig

“One day I was a highly successful military police officer, and the next I was learning to walk again and trying to figure out what I was now able to do with my life.”

MSG Bobby Ehrig (Ret.) was serving as a military police officer in Iraq when his life changed drastically after sustaining third-degree burns to 40% of his body due to a blast from a suicide bomber. As a result of the attack, Bobby also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hearing loss, a traumatic brain injury, corneal scarring, which makes him light-sensitive, and inhalation burns to his throat and lungs, which limit his ability to exercise.

Bobby’s burn injuries have required him to re-adapt to his environment. He uses copious amounts of lotion to keep his skin hydrated, and must cover 100% of his grafts from the sun. He is also unable to perspire on almost 40% of his body, making it difficult to enjoy many events and hobbies with his family. After 31 surgeries and 11 (and ongoing) years of recovery, he still suffers from almost total neuropathy (weakness, numbness, and pain) in both arms and hands. In spite of these challenges, Bobby adapts and is able to enjoy outside activities with family and friends.

Bobby became unintentionally involved in advocacy. As the highest ranking enlisted person injured at Brooke Army Hospital for several years, Service members from all branches of the military would approach or contact him for help and advice. He did what he could to help them while completing his own recovery. He learned from this experience that many Veterans have several challenges with locating resources and support outside of the military. He realized then that he could have a sizeable impact in bringing much-needed support to the Veteran community.

Currently, Bobby serves as the Executive Director for the San Antonio Coalition for Veterans and Families, a Veteran nonprofit organization that he helped establish in 2007. This organization is charged with helping Veterans and their families connect with resources within the community, and help them solve problems that make many feel overwhelmed. They also work to develop new programs to help fulfill unmet needs in the community when no other programs exist, and improve existing or potential programs that serve Veterans for agencies that request their services. The organization has designed, implemented, and successfully received funding for six new Veteran programs in Texas and helped to bring over $7.5 million in grant funding to the region.

Bobby also serves as a peer mentor for Veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health disorders. In addition to his work in the community, he has positively impacted Department of Veterans Affairs programs of care for burn Veterans, and at the state level by helping to pass two Texas state laws to help severely burned Veterans. He was also awarded the 2012 Texas DAV Disabled Veteran of the Year award for his work in helping Veterans in Texas.

His advocacy has allowed him to be more outspoken and better able to understand the “new normal” that he lives with every day. It has also allowed him some great opportunities to advocate for change at the federal and state level to make legislative changes that will affect generations of Veteran families. He has provided many presentations on his experiences with treatment, care, and longevity of changes to help educate professionals and hopefully provide valuable insight into the future of burn treatment and care.

Bobby’s participation in the Military Burn Research Program (MBRP) peer review process has given him an opportunity to provide input on the potential military impact of submitted research proposals and share his experience with scientists on the review panel. In reflecting on his participation as an MBRP Consumer reviewer, Bobby stated, “I think the biggest thing [about the Peer Review experience] is that I am sitting in a room with over a dozen scientists, many of whom are the smartest people in their fields. And within the panel, these people actually are very interested in my opinion of the studies that they and their peers perform each day. As an Army Master Sergeant I would never have thought that a super genius would want to hear what I have to say and actually ask me questions on how something affects our combat wounded Heroes… I think it is our obligation to share what we went through and how we recovered so that future generations of burn Veterans do not endure the difficulties that we did.”

Last updated Wednesday, March 28, 2018