CITY OF BROOKFIELD – Veteran, doctor, proud father of two and now the 2017 Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year.
The lifetime accomplishments of Dr. Kenneth K. Lee continue to accumulate. The longtime city of Brookfield resident was recognized in New Orleans by Disabled American Veterans with the award July 29.
“The Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year has been around for many years here at DAV and each year we select the most deserving veteran,” DAV National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst said. “What we’re looking for is individuals who have overcome a severe obstacle in their lives from military service.”
Severely injured in Iraq
Lee, a native of South Korea, was deployed to Iraq as the commander of the Army’s Company B, 118th Area Support Medical Battalion, but was injured in 2004 by a suicide car bomber. Lee suffered an open head traumatic brain injury and severe shrapnel wounds to his legs. He was evacuated back to the U.S. and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Everyone kind of works towards a certain goal in their life to make a difference in what you do,” Lee said. “You don’t do it to get an award, but you do it to make things happen.”
Prior to his deployment, Lee worked as a rehabilitation specialist at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. Despite that experience, his own recovery was much harder than he expected.
“Coming back from Iraq, it was more difficult than I imagined," Lee said. "As a physician, I thought I could handle a lot of stuff, but it turned out to be not. There were a lot of challenges at home both dealing with family and everything else.”
Lee, 52, credits his own patients, fellow veterans and especially his family with helping him to get through that difficult period.
Lee and his wife Kate have been married for 22 years. Their daughter Leah attends Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and their son Jonathan is set to begin his first year at the same school this fall.
“Definitely my wife is the biggest person who had to deal with all of this,” Lee said. “I’m very fortunate because my family stuck by me.”
Helping those with disabilities
One method by which Lee has found solace in his life while also helping others is through his devotion to sports for people with disabilities. He is a volunteer physician at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, serves as president of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Adaptive Sports Association and founded the Milwaukee Wheelchair Lacrosse team.
“I do a lot of sports medicine at the VA. Sports is kind of my niche,” Lee said. “These folks who have life-altering changes in their lives, why not use sports to make it better? Sure enough, it’s one of the most effective rehabilitation programs for people like that.”
Lee was presented with his award by DAV National Commander David W. Riley.
“Dr. Kenneth Lee is a shining example of everything that is good about our nation and its veterans,” Riley said. “The compassion he shows for other veterans and his work to help them find success is truly the hallmark of his award and we’re very proud of what he’s doing for this community.”
Kids carrying on
Perhaps even greater than Lee’s own contributions to caring for veterans is that both of his children are now following the same path.
Leah graduated from Brookfield Central High School while Jonathan finished Brookfield Academy this spring. Both earned scholarships through the DAV due to their time spent volunteering at the VA and hope to one day also help veterans as physicians.
“It’s kind of beyond pride. I think the kids have really learned the appreciation and the respect for veterans, especially disabled veterans,” Lee said. “It’s a great legacy that they’re going to carry on.”
For more information about DAV or to make a donation to the organization go to www.dav.org.