Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Chicago-based For the Fallen helps injured military service members get back on their feet

illustration: Will White

by Kim Jeffries

The most vocal support for our armed forces—regardless of conflict or politics—tends to be from members of the military and their loved ones. Which makes Alex Agran, founder and president of Chicago-based nonprofit For the Fallen, an anomaly, seeing as he has no personal connection to the war in Iraq. But one night in 2004, as he watched the evening news report on the war's latest developments, he had an epiphany: Brave men and women were fighting so he could have the freedom to be with his family and the luxury of going out with his friends.

"These people are in the middle of the desert, real military heroes, [and they don't know] when they're going to see their families," says Agran, who works as an associate at a Chicago hedge fund firm.

For the Fallen—run by only a handful of volunteers—has raised more than $185,000 for 49 military families since its inception. For every dollar raised, 92 cents goes toward helping pay mortgages, medical expenses, groceries and other goods and services military families can't afford while they wait for their benefits to come in from Veterans Affairs (which, while paid retroactively, can sometimes take months to establish). "For three months we give them the opportunity—give them a breather—to try and get back on their feet," Agran says.

One of the first soldiers they helped was Sgt. Gabe Garriga, a member of the Army National Guard based in Freeport, Ill. Garriga was severely burned when the Humvee he was riding in through southern Iraq crashed. Sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, he "flatlined three times," according to Agran, and his parents and brother quit their jobs to be by his side. "The military gave me the best medical care I could have gotten," Garriga says. However, without jobs to cover their mortgage or military benefits not yet coming in for medical care, the family fell under hard times.

"Their house was foreclosed upon," Agran explains. "They lost their house because this kid sacrificed himself for his country." That's where For the Fallen came in, granting the Garriga family money to put toward medical care and finding a home. Luckily, Garriga pulled through, and he and his family are living in Chicago.

While For the Fallen originally focused on Illinois families, it has broadened its influence to include service members from around the country. And because of advances in technology and medicine, fewer soldiers are dying from their injuries, challenging the government to find ways to best care for those who put their lives on the line for the rest of us.

"Throughout the history of our country, we haven't taken proper care of our veterans," Agran says. "There's a gap of financial need [between when soldiers are injured and when benefits kick in]. Financially, these people suffer very, very badly. We recognize that need and attempt to fill it."

For the Fallen's annual fundraiser, Drink for the Fallen, is Oct. 12 at Mahoney's (551 N. Ogden, 312/733-2121);