Sea-Air-Space notebook: Blind officer, Paralympian talks about transition


Lt. Brad Snyder spoke about veterans’ transition assistance at the Sea-Air-Space symposium Monday. (Staff photo)

Lt. Brad Snyder’s presentation at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space symposium outside Washington, D.C., didn’t have any PowerPoint slides.

“I can’t see it, so you can’t either,” he said during the Monday afternoon speaker floor session at the Navy League booth.

Snyder was blinded by an improvised explosive device blast during a deployment to Afghanistan in September 2011. During his recovery, the Naval Academy grad and former swimmer got back into the pool to regain his confidence.

He never imagined it would lead him to the London Paralympics last summer, where he won two gold medals and one silver. The gold in his best event, the 400-meter freestyle, came Sept. 7, 2012 — one year to the day after he was injured.

Now, Snyder is an ambassador for the COMMIT Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to match veterans with civilian mentors to ease their transition to life outside the military.

“Little gestures can go a long way,” Snyder said.

Even after Snyder proved he was still capable in the pool, he was a long way from heading to London. Representatives from the COMMIT Foundation are the ones who found him a pool in which to train and made his victory at the Paralympics possible.

When asked about recent criticisms of the Veterans Affairs Department, Snyder said that overall he’s had great care, but that outdated systems often make things move too slowly. Though he finished his rehab more than a year ago, Snyder is still not close to being processed out of the military and is still being paid as an active-duty sailor, though he isn’t of any operational use to the Navy, he said.

Snyder, who got an internship with a software start-up in Baltimore while training for the Paralympics, said his advice for transitioning vets is to think outside of the box.

“Lots of veterans settle for the opportunities they know,” he said.

What’s Snyder up to next? In addition to becoming more involved with the COMMIT Foundation, he also plans to open his own business and is training for the Rio Paralympics 2016 triathlon team.


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