- - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

When my husband first went into the hospital, I was scared. My husband Charlie, an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran, was not coherent and to see the man I love collapse and transform into someone unrecognizable – it shook me to my core. I did not know if my husband would make it, I did not know what the future held. I was 25 years old, with a 1-year-old child, feeling isolated from my husband’s unit and too many miles away from home. This was the first time in my life I had felt hopeless. I am not an outwardly religious person, and growing up and even now I have struggled with asking for help. But that night, I did pray and ask for help. I needed something, not for me, but for my daughter and husband.

I dialed the number for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and over the course of an hour they talked to me, to make sure that I was okay, that there was food at the house for my daughter and me, and that all of our necessities were taken care of. Wounded Warrior Project also flew my dad out so that I could have support while dealing with the transition from Army spouse to military caregiver.

Since that day, Wounded Warrior Project has been a pillar of support in our life, offering disabled veteran-friendly activities, family support and providing funding to other organizations, such as the Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Programs which have allowed Charlie to work toward recovery. Programs which have helped me maintain my status as a military caregiver, and not a military widow.

I work for a non-profit, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which received a large grant from Wounded Warrior Project to help fund our RAND: Hidden Heroes study. This study gave military caregivers of all eras the much needed data to represent what we go through. The data has been used by the Foundation to interact with more than 300 organizations to create multiple forms of support for military caregivers. It has also helped support the Dole Fellows, in their more than 250 meetings with members of Congress, advocating on behalf of the 5.5 million military caregivers within our country. Wounded Warrior Project has also funded retreats for the Dole Fellows to enjoy a few days of just being able to relax and bond with one another, and continues to work with the foundation to help support military caregivers such as myself.

There are a wide variety of 20 programs offered by Wounded Warrior Project to help veterans. One is the Independence Program, which creates individual veteran specific care plans and programs in conjunction with the veteran’s care team to give the moderately to severely disabled veterans a “future with a purpose.”

My friend and Dole Fellow Jennifer Mackinday has been caring for her brother, retired Army Spec. James Smith, also an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, for more than 10 years. Mr. Smith was severely wounded by an IED blast in Mosul, Iraq, and until his enrollment, lived with his sister, Mrs. Mackinday, full time. With the help of Wounded Warrior Project’s Independence Program, Mr. Smith is now in his own apartment, with daily professional support. Mrs. Mackinday now has the peace of mind knowing that if something were to happen to her, Mr. Smith would not end up living in a nursing home. Thanks to the Long-Term Support Trust, another Wounded Warrior Project program, Mr. Smith’s care will be covered for the duration of his life.

Like many, I have been paying attention to the recent news reports of Wounded Warrior Project. Whatever your belief may be, I urge you to first look at Wounded Warrior Project’s audited financials, as well as Wounded Warrior Project’s official response to both the CBS report and the New York Times article.

I cannot answer for what goes on day-to-day inside Wounded Warrior Project. I can only show the multiple ways that Wounded Warrior Project has supported not only my family, but the 5.5 million military caregivers and untold number of veterans who have benefits from Wounded Warrior Project’s support of innovative research as well as advocacy on Capitol Hill.

Finally, I want to leave you all with a list of the multiple non-profit organizations that have received grants and support from Wounded Warrior Project. These organizations include Veterans of Foreign Wars, Quality of Life Foundation, Shepherd Center Foundation, Luke’s Wings, Family Services of Greater Huston and many more, listed here.

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