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Offers of aid pour in for wounded veteran robbed at gunpoint

SANTA FE, N.M. — The phone calls kept coming in Thursday morning, offering help of all kinds.

Brian Ryder, a wounded military veteran who was robbed at gunpoint of $700 Feb. 7 near downtown Santa Fe, initially was overcome by the response to a story about him that published Thursday in The New Mexican, so much so that he had to leave his house to gather himself. He said he started feeling guilty.

“I’ve never taken a dime from anyone,” Ryder said, “and so I was having a little bit of a conflict.”

People from around the country started contacting Ryder to offer assistance and financial aid.

Ryder, who recently came to Santa Fe from Tallahassee, Fla., to stay with his mother, became emotional as he expressed his gratitude to the community.

The veteran, who was injured in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan, has spent years recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, short-term memory loss and some mobility disabilities. He said he had been saving up to buy a service dog, so the loss of the cash was a setback. However, the Veterans Affairs Department likely will approve funding to cover the cost of a service dog for Ryder, who officially retired from active military duty on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The problem with going through Veterans Affairs, Ryder said, was that the waiting list to get the funding can take up to two years. He was told that if he saved up $2,500 for a service dog through a program called Paws and Stripes, the approval process could be expedited. Trained service dogs, if not funded by the VA, can cost up to $6,000.

Meanwhile, Ryder has submitted an application with Assistance Dogs of the West on St. Michael’s Drive, and his mother has set up a donation account at the Wells Fargo Bank on Washington Avenue called the Brian Ryder’s Service Dog Fund. Ryder also is looking at establishing a fund directly with Assistance Dogs of the West.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization in New York, emailed Ryder on Thursday to offer help in getting a service dog free of charge. The funding could cover the cost of the dog from the accredited Assistance Dogs International organization. Trainers in Texas and Arizona also have contacted Ryder to offer their help.

Ryder, who walks with a cane, said this week, “I’m just scared to death of one of these days taking a fall, hitting my head and losing the memory and cognition I have left.” The dog could help prevent that.

He has undergone 23 surgeries to repair his spine and hips after a nearly fatal accident in July 2009 while he was deployed with the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

Police don’t have any suspects in the robbery, in which Ryder says two men assaulted him, even fired a shot at him, near the intersection of Grant Avenue and Rosario Street while he was walking home from a downtown bar. “More than anything,” Ryder said, “I just want nothing like this to happen to anyone else.”

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