Sarah Verardo is a national advocate for wounded Veterans and their Caregivers. She regularly shares the empowering and compelling message “Surviving Surviving,” on behalf of families – like hers – whose lives have been forever changed by combat wounds.
What may be a new normal to the Verardos hasn’t always been the case for her daughters’ peers. Following comments in school hallways about why Grace’s dad looked different, Sarah penned the children’s book Hero At Home to educate other children (and adults!) about the sacrifices of Veterans and the realities of life at home.
Sarah’s steadfast devotion, experience, and drive led to her to be named The Independence Fund’s first Chief Executive Officer, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to restoring the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual independence of wounded Veterans. Since 2011, The Independence Fund has given away more than 2,600 all-terrain track chairs to Veterans in need. In her role, Sarah has also given voice to the work and burden of Caregivers who shoulder the scars of war back home, knowing that only when a family is whole can an individual be whole.
Sarah knew that true mental and emotional restoration for Veterans defined by trauma could only be achieved by re-establishing the bonds of brotherhood forged on the front lines. Compelled by grief and frustration at the funeral of another Veteran lost to suicide, she knew there must be another way. Her innovative program Operation Resiliency was founded in partnership with federal agencies and provide multi-day retreats where combat units gather in formation and do the hardest work: Admitting that it’s okay not to be okay.
At the heart of her work is the story of Sgt. Michael Verardo who was catastrophically wounded in Afghanistan in 2010 – in two separate IED attacks that took his left leg, much of his left arm, and left him with polytraumatic conditions that have required more than one hundred surgeries and years of speech, visual, physical, and occupational therapies.
In 2021, the state of North Carolina voted unanimously to commemorate annually April 24 as Wounded Heroes Day in honor of Sgt. Michael Verardo and all of the state’s wounded Veterans. April 24 is also the celebration of Michael’s Alive Day – the anniversary of his survival in the face of wounds classified “death imminent.”
Sarah has long been at the forefront of Afghan Ally inclusion within the Veteran community. Beginning in 2015, she began working closely with the Afghan government to honor and celebrate the sacrifices made by Veterans in both nations. Establishing regular events at the US-based Afghan Embassy, Sarah facilitated key partnerships that allowed American combat Veterans, their Afghan partners, Gold Star families, and Veteran Caregivers the opportunity to find solace on Afghan soil in the United States. The Independence Fund welcomed Afghan combat interpreters to join its Operation Resiliency retreats in 2019.
Compelled by the federal Administration’s move to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in spring 2021, Sarah kickstarted an effort in July to open The Independence Fund’s programs criteria to all Special Immigrant Visa recipients living in the US. Because of this advocacy, TIF was the first national VSO to include combat interpreters in Veteran programming. As the withdrawal escalated, she created the Allies program at TIF, offering SIV holders financial assistance, and all Afghans navigation of available resources. Sarah also supported and advocated for the passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act.
In a move that was at once vital and inspiring, the August 2021 collapse of Afghanistan led Verardo and three others to co-found direct-response rescue and aid organization Save Our Allies. Since, SOA has evacuated more than 17,000 US citizens, SIV holders, and wartime Allies from the country. Their harrowing efforts are captured in the documentary, Send Me.
Among the thousands of stories of hope that emerged from the rescue operations, the closest to Sarah’s heart was the rescue of Michael’s combat interpreter, Johnny. With efforts led by Sarah and Senator Thom Tillis, Johnny and his family arrived safely in America where they now reside near the Verardos.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Sarah and Save Our Allies swarmed to the frontlines to offer medical and humanitarian relief efforts. Sarah’s team was responsible for the rescue of journalist Benjamin Hall from the war-torn country as well as the recovery of the remains of Benji’s fallen colleagues. She remains close with Hall and has been a vocal support of his recovery.
Sarah’s tenacity and grit transcend borders and remain unparalleled.