America Supports You: 100 Wounded Troops, Families Walk Road to Recovery
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2007 Nearly 100 wounded servicemembers and their families recently returned home with a renewed sense of family, inspiration and hope after attending the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes third annual Road to Recovery Conference. The conference was held in mid-December at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program showcasing the ways Americans support the nation’s servicemembers.
The conference first began in 2004 to provide a meaningful way for individuals, corporations and others to help severely wounded and disabled veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom and their families rebuild their lives. The all-expenses-paid event, which concluded Dec. 17, offered the servicemembers and their families the same support as its predecessors, according to a Coalition to Salue America's Heroes spokesperson.
Those attending enjoyed four days of much-needed rest and relaxation, as well as access to training and counseling in areas relevant to their lives after returning from combat, the spokesperson said.
Speakers included one of the country’s foremost experts on post-traumatic stress disorder, a certified sex educator, and a severely Vietnam veteran who delivered an inspiring message on turning a bad experience into something good and making the most of their lives.
As a result of a servicemember's injuries, often times the spouse or loved ones must leave their jobs to become a caretaker. This loss in income, in addition to the added expenses of medication and hospital bills, is a blow to an already modest family income, the spokesperson said.
The conference offered job training and access to some of the nation's top organizations looking to hire veterans, the spokesperson said. These included the Defense Department, State Department, Merrill Lynch, Military Severely Injured Center, Northrop Grumman, General Motors, Bank of America, and Department of Veteran Affairs.
As a result of this training and two-day job fair, the spokesperson said, nearly a dozen troops and family members got job offers.
Additionally, servicemembers and their families were given access to the top resources available from the government, veteran service organizations and the private sector. They were able to voice their thanks or concerns to the people who can make a difference in their lives by participating in a panel discussion with other severely injured servicemembers, VA TRICARE, Marines for Life, Navy Safe Harbor, and the Wounded Warrior Program.
During these sessions the families gained a better understanding of the depth of services available to them, the spokesperson said, and the conference made readily accessible these resources easily accessible, which can easily be overlooked by veterans.
As much as the Road to Recovery is for the servicemembers, it is also for their loved ones. The conference provided group therapy sessions for the children, spouses, and caregivers on coping strategies, financial planning and relationships, sexuality and quality of life. There was also plenty of time for family-bonding and fun, the spokesperson said.
Families visited Walt Disney World, participating in family night events with performance painter Michael Isreal, face painting and special meetings with Disney characters.
The last night of the event, a special banquet and tribute was held to thank those men and women who sacrificed for their country, and to thank others who stepped up to help in their healing process. The coalition presented each attendee with a $500 gift check to buy holiday gifts.
The presentation was part of the second annual gift check program that the coalition implements to ensure wounded veterans and their families have a brighter holiday.
The Florida Chapter of The Einstein Foundation also presented each attending servicemember from Florida with a $10,000 check to show their gratitude “for defending the freedoms that we all hold so dear.”
Actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band provided entertainment for the evening with a special tribute concert for the servicemembers who, with their families, danced late into the night.
Special recognition was given to those individuals, servicemembers, service organizations and corporations that stepped up in their own ways in 2006 to provide support to these wounded and disabled veterans. The coalition honored GNC, General Motors, Jackson-Hewitt, NAPE Oil and Gas, Shell Motor Oil, and KCI Research and Development with its "Home Front Hero" award for sponsoring the Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute. Sinise, the Military Severely Injured Center and Mychel Watts, a retired Marine and professional photographer, also received the award for their support of the coalition and the nation’s servicemembers.
"The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes is extremely honored that our corporate sponsors … have stepped up with donations to cover the families' expenses," said Ray Clifford, vice president of the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. “We are already busy planning our 2007 conference and are excited to partner with other corporations looking to show their dedication, commitment and support of those severely wounded men and women that served our country."
Perhaps as important as the knowledge and support servicemembers gained at the Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute, they were allowed the chance to bond with their families and one another. Seeing that there is an enormous network of support from one another, the public and corporations was an incredible step forward in their road to recovery, the spokesperson said.