- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It started with a single conversation at a conference a few years ago.The wife of a severely wounded Marine shared with Mike Zeiders the life-changing impact her husband’s injuries had on their family. She was forced to give up her job and become the soldier’s full-time caregiver with very little help.

Her story, ripe with overwhelming and impossible challenges, was compelling but not unusual. Many families experienced financial and emotional hardship as well as limited resources to help care for their wounded troops and veterans.

Mr. Zeiders, an entrepreneur, heard their plight and answered the call to action. He founded the Quality of Life Foundation (QOLF), a nonprofit organization based in Prince William County, with a mission “to honor and serve the families of our severely injured combat service members by helping them find resources to face the intense, life-changing challenges unique to their situations.”

The foundation, established in 2007, states that “with the right people, the right resources, and the right motivations, real problems can be solved in a creative, dynamic way that will make rapid, lasting and significant improvements in the quality of life of those we wish to serve,” according to the organization’s Web site.

“Although we had a genuine commitment to support these families, we needed to know what support structure was already in place,” Mr. Zeiders said of the foundation’s initial steps to providing services.

In April, QOLF published its “The Wounded Warrior Family Care Report.” The report provides a synopsis of the foundation’s research regarding the needs of severely wounded service members’ families and the availability of existing government and nonprofit resources to match those needs. The report also provides several recommendations to improve and supplement existing support services to ensure that families have timely and full access to the resources required to rebuild quality lives after a devastating injury, he said.

QOLF Executive Director Kim Munoz said there are 32,000 families of wounded and evacuated troops affected by Iraq and Afghanistan deployment. Besides a referral service, the foundation plans to establish a volunteer bank that will relieve family members of caregiving and household chores.

“From the moment they get that phone call that their loved one is injured to lifetime caregiving is how long we want to serve our soldiers and their families,” she said.

The Mannion-Brodeur family, who were interviewed for the QOLF report, could serve as a poster family for the foundation’s initiatives.

On March 11, 2007, Army Cpl. Vincent Mannion-Brodeur, of the 82nd Airborne unit and deployed in Iraq, was a member of a team assigned the task of looking for reported bomb makers. But the bomb makers found them first. No sooner than they had entered a suspect building, it blew up, triggered by a cell phone. Mr. Mannion-Brodeur survived but was severely injured.

Jeff Brodeur, his stepfather from a very early age, and a retired Army corporal and national director of the Korean War Veterans’ Association, recounted this story and the extent of his decorated son’s injuries.

“His complete cranium was removed, his left arm had to be reattached, and he suffered dementia,” he said. “My son was in a coma for almost three months and a vegetative state for nine months. He now walks like a stroke victim.”

Mr. Brodeur and his wife are the primary caregivers for their 22-year-old son. Mr. Brodeur said resources and continued help for his son are scarce.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, introduced the Family Caregiver Program Act in April. This bill is designed to assist veterans, who need ongoing caregiving services if they have suffered a serious injury after Sept. 11, 2001, to receive the care in their home. It would also allow their caregivers to receive the necessary training and benefits.

In February 2010, QOLF will roll out its Community Resource Coordinator Program, which is synergizing the efforts of other organizations, agencies and groups It will conduct home visits to wounded soldiers and develop tailored solutions for unmet or underserved needs; visit, research and facilitate veterans’ access to community-based support; recruit, train and manage local volunteers who want to support these families; and raise funds to meet emergency needs.

A location for the pilot project has not yet been determined, but will begin modestly with one community resource coordinator assisting two or three families, Ms. Munoz said.

Cathy Baker, who recently moved from Florida to West Virginia and is the primary caregiver of her son, Michael Baker, is most appreciative of the foundation’s efforts. Mrs. Baker and her husband, Mark, participated in a two-day work group the foundation held to shape the resource coordinator program. “I feel many families will benefit greatly from this program,” she said.

• Geraldine Washington is a freelance writer living in the District.

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