Disabled, Disfigured Kansas City Army Vet to Receive Award for Perseverance

By Guest Contributor

First posted on 05-21-2008

The WillReturn Council® of Kansas City-based Assurant Employee Benefits will present its annual Shining Star of Perseverance award to J.R. Martinez, a 24-year-old Army veteran who fought and became disabled while serving his country in Iraq. Despite his disability, Mr. Martinez has persevered, receiving national attention in his quest to inspire others who, like him, have been injured while serving their country.

In 2003, Martinez was driving a Humvee in Kabala, Iraq, when a land mine suddenly exploded, turning the vehicle into a fireball and trapping him inside.

This incident left him disfigured and discouraged, fearing that his scars would affect the way he was perceived by others. However, through the support of his family and friends, Mr. Martinez has been able to overcome his appearance, and today, while serving as a national spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, uses his scars to help others overcome their own

personal obstacles.

“Support from not just my family, but my friends as well, has enabled me to persevere,” said Martinez, “I now hope my story serves as an inspiration to

other people.”

Martinez will be the 6th recipient of the Shining Star of Perseverance award given every year by the WillReturn Council to honor those who have made the most significant recent contribution toward demonstrating perseverance through disabling illness or injury.

The WillReturn Council was established in 1998 by Assurant Employee Benefits to recognize the efforts of disability claimants in returning to productive lives after disabling illnesses and injuries. Past Shining Star award recipients include the authors of Nordies at Noon, a book about coming together to reach the common goal of beating cancer, and former U.S. senator Robert J. Dole, whose achievements following devastating battlefield injuries sustained during World War II inspired a generation of Americans.

Demonstrating that disability is something that can affect anyone regardless of his or her age, race, or cultural background, this year will mark the first time the award is given to a member of the Hispanic community.

“Being honored with the Shining Star award is a tremendous honor — really overwhelming and shocking,” said Martinez. “I represent a culture and heritage that I’m very proud of, so to break the ice as the first Hispanic winner is a good feeling that makes me proud.”

The 2008 award will be presented during a special ceremony hosted by

Assurant Employee Benefits. Former major league umpire Steve Palermo, who overcame paralysis after being shot, and who serves as chairman of the WillReturn Council, will present the award.

“Martinez’s story encompasses everything that the Shining Star award is all about,” Palermo said. “His extraordinary optimism has allowed him to move forward and encourage others in the face of adversity.”

According to the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, nearly one in five Americans will become disabled for one year or more before the age of 65, yet only 36 percent of all full-time employees have access to long-term disability insurance through their employers. May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month, and as a leader in the employee benefits industry, Assurant Employee Benefits hopes this award will raise awareness of the need for disability insurance.

“The Shining Star of Perseverance award is one of several ways in which we demonstrate our commitment to not only helping disabled employees return to work, but also recognize those who are overcoming obstacles, conquering the odds, and achieving great things,” said John Roberts, interim president and CEO of Assurant Employee Benefits. “Our goal is to help people during difficult times and create the tools necessary to help them recover and return to work.”

Since 1978, Assurant Employee Benefits has had a formal vocational rehabilitation program in place that includes a specialized staff dedicated to helping people with disabilities return to work.

This year’s Shining Star award event will be held from 11:00 a.m. to noon, May 21 in Crown Center Exhibit Hall B, located at 2323 McGee St., adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel. Army veteran J.R. Martinez will be present at the event to accept the award and address those in attendance.

In addition to visiting disabled soldiers throughout the nation to comfort, encourage, and to recruit for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, Martinez also has been involved with Building Homes for Heroes, an organization that raises funds to build homes for returning war veterans, and Fisher House, which provides nearby homes away from home for family members of hospitalized servicemen and women. Future goals for Mr. Martinez include writing a series of books with a self-motivation focus, and starting his own nationally syndicated television show that features positive stories.

“I believe I was put in this world to help people and I want to live life to its fullest,” said Martinez. “Just because something bad happens doesn’t mean it’s the end. Never give up!”

The Shining Star award event is open to the public and reservations are required to attend. For information, please call 816.881.8968.

About Assurant Employee Benefits:

The WillReturn CouncilÒ of Assurant Employee Benefits honors individuals who demonstrate remarkable initiative and positive attitude, either during recovery from a disabling injury or illness, or while adapting to a new lifestyle necessitated by

their disability.

Assurant Employee Benefits specializes in quality employee benefits and services, including long-term and short-term disability, life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance, dental coverage, and disability reinsurance management services. Assurant Employee Benefits also offers voluntary (employee-paid) disability, life, and dental plans. Products and services marketed by Assurant Employee Benefits are underwritten by Union Security Insurance Company or an affiliated prepaid dental company. In New York, group insurance products and services are marketed by Assurant Employee Benefits and underwritten by Union Security Life Insurance Company of New York, which is licensed in New York and has its principal place of business in Syracuse, New York. Underwriting flexibility allows Assurant Employee Benefits to market tailor-made benefit plans for groups of most any size. Assurant Employee Benefits is located in Kansas City, Missouri.