America Supports You: Walter Reed Society Has Special Meaning for Its President
By Rudi Williams
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2007 Janet Southby has been a driving force behind the Walter Reed Society since the group’s beginning in 1996.
The Walter Reed Society works to enhance patient support and improve morale by funding special unmet needs of soldiers and their families during treatment and recovery. Southby served as first vice president of the group until being elected president in 2001 and has held that position ever since.
“I have been privileged to serve with a dedicated group of volunteers on the Board of Directors and in other volunteer positions for the past six years,” said Southby, a retired colonel who was chief nurse at Walter Reed before retiring in December 1996.
“I think it is very important for any significant institution to have a strong support group,” she said. “The society was organized to benefit Walter Reed and its educational, treatment and research activities in multiple ways. The intent was to support events and fund projects that enhance patient-care services, support the welfare and morale of soldiers and other staff, and preserve the legacy and reputation of Walter Reed, the man and the institution named in his honor.”
The society has special meaning to Southby because she spent nearly half of her 30 years of military professional life as a nurse at Walter Reed. “It was a wonderful place to work, and the rewards were two-fold: providing health care for America’s military families while serving the nation,” Southby said. “An added benefit is keeping in touch with so many who value Walter Reed -- as patients, staff, family, friends, advocates -- and want to stay connected with the institution and each other.”
Southby said the society’s purpose has expanded during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom to offer more direct assistance to today’s wounded warriors and their families. Since 2004, the society has spent more than $800,000 assisting dozens of wounded warriors and their families with unexpected financial crises. “This has been made possible by our generous private and corporate donors who want to help those who have been injured while serving in harm’s way,” she noted. “For this, we are truly grateful.”
Many groups work together to assist wounded warriors and their families, Southby said. She cited the example of a soldier’s wife and children who were on the West Coast when their soldier was wounded in Iraq. The wife was flown to Germany to see her husband at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, leaving her children with childcare providers. Upon the couple’s arrival at Walter Reed, the Yellow Ribbon Fund paid the wife’s roundtrip airfare to Tacoma, Wash., to get their children and bring them to Walter Reed. The family is now living in the Fisher House on the hospital campus.
The Walter Reed Society assisted with grants to cover rent, car payments, childcare costs, insurance and cell phone costs.
Requests for assistance come through the Soldier Family Assistance Center, a central point for servicemembers and families needing assistance. Assistance is usually provided within 24 to 48 hours of a request.
In addition, the society has collaborated with another organization by providing $7,000 to buy video-gaming equipment at the Mologne House Hotel, where many wounded warriors and their families have temporary lodging. The society also supports the “healing garden” maintained by the Department of Nursing in the hospital’s fifth floor courtyard.
“For the staff, we have supported activities like the incoming interns picnic, staff appreciation breakfast, cakes for corps’ anniversaries, gifts for soldier and noncommissioned officer of the year, Audie Murphy Association, etc.,” Southby noted.
She said the society’s long-term goals include developing a plan for future use of the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Support Fund, which includes creating a scholarship fund. Society members also are considering expanding the society to support the new 120-bed DeWitt Army Community Hospital that’s on the drawing board at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“The society already has appointed a patient liaison at the National Naval Medical Center (in Bethesda, Md.) to prepare for the transition to the new 345-bed tri-service Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (there) in 2011,” Southby noted “I would hope that the society and its purposes will transition as part of the integration process.”
(Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Rudi Williams is with the Walter Reed Society.)
Editor's Note: To find out about more individuals, groups and organizations that are helping support the troops, visit www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil. America Supports You directly connects military members to the support of the America people and offers a tool to the general public in their quest to find meaningful ways to support the military community.