To develop the most well-adjusted generation of veterans to date: a lofty goal, but one that the Wounded Warrior Project is making great strides towards through their 13 different programs offered to service members who have incurred a service related illness or injury on or after 9/11 and their support members. Though the efforts are focused towards the more recent generation of veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project connects veterans of previous wars with the correct resources to help them as well. The group had the privilege of speaking with the Regional Alumni Director and learning about 13 programs that the Wounded Warrior Project provides, including the Alumni Program, Resource Centers, Peer Support, Government and Community Relations, Benefits, Warriors to Work, Physical Health and Wellness, Soldier Ride, WWP TLC, Combat Stress Recovery Program, Warrior Care Network, and the Independence Program. The Warrior Care Network partners with 4 academic institutions, one being Emory, to conduct 2-3 week intensive outpatient programs for PTSD. The important aspect of this program is that the academic institutions are required to share their research findings from these programs, so that outcomes can be improved for all. The group learned that the function of Wounded Warrior Project is to build rapport, assess needs, and connect veterans with the services that will most benefit them. Veterans are recruited through outreach programs, hospitals, Warrior Transition Battalions, and networking. Trust is built by bonding over veteran status, connecting individuals with the people that can best relate to them, and by working not to be patronizing. The Alumni Director even told the group that he keeps a beard because it is a symbol of community for those who are veterans. After spending the first part of the immersion learning about the legislative process, it was very interesting to learn about all of the Wounded Warrior Project’s lobbying efforts, and how they played a crucial role in the development of the Mission Act. It was interesting to learn that many veterans prefer the VA to community options because of the specialized care that the VA can provide in many areas such as mental health, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injury. It was also very interesting to realize that if the group is interested in politics, there are many different avenues to become involved in certain causes.
The day continued with another organization that provides amazing services to veterans: the Fisher House. The Fisher House provides a home for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers at no cost to the families. The families are welcomed if they live 50 miles or more from VA medical centers after referral by their social worker or primary care physician. The group loved to see that the Fisher House truly is a home. The house at the DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center was beautifully decorated and offered a gourmet kitchen, cozy living areas, a patio, and 20 comfortable suites. The house always tries to keep at least two rooms open in the evenings in the event that families come into the emergency room and need a place to stay. The Fisher House was a mere 20 steps from the front door of the hospital, offering convenience and community within walking distance. The group was able to prepare a home-cooked meal for the residents followed by a paint-and-sip activity. It was amazing to talk with the guests, and to learn about how easy it is to take things like freshly-prepared food for granted until one is faced with medical treatment far from home. It was heartwarming to see the impact that the Fisher House has on families, providing them a stress-free environment during a difficult time in their lives.
The group was able to take time to reflect on the many organizations serving veterans and making a true impact on them, outside of federal funding or the Veterans Affairs system. These organizations are able to partner with the VA and supplement services to help reinforce and improve upon resources being offered. These organizations were both the essence of veteran-centric care, as the employees under both roofs were driven by their passion for the military community, rather than a salary or benefits. As the VA creates more community partnerships, and starts to refer out more services through the Mission Act, nurses outside of the VA will see veterans more and more. Therefore, this passion for improving quality of life for veterans was inspiring to the group, and it is a notion that they will be able to carry forward into their careers within the VA or outside of it.