Wounded Troops Hit Road to Recovery at Disney World
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 8, 2004 The ball officially began rolling when retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks spoke at a kick-off luncheon on Nov. 9 in Washington. Just a month later, the Disney Coronado Springs Resort and Convention Center here is ready to welcome about 500 troops severely wounded and disabled in the global war on terrorism.
From today through Dec. 12, the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes' first Road to Recovery Tribute and Conference will provide a wealth of information to the troops all at no cost to veterans. The veterans did have to meet some criteria to be eligible to attend the conference, coalition spokesman Mike Thompson said, adding that the organization plans to make it an annual event.
To attend, veterans must be 30 percent or more disabled. The focus was on those who were wounded in combat, though some participants were injured in-theater but not in combat, Thompson said. The group is overwhelmingly composed of Purple Heart recipients, he added.
Motivational speakers, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seminars on job training, education and employment opportunities all will be featured over the four working days of the conference. Veterans also will have access to one-on- one sessions to evaluate individual needs in several areas, including job opportunities.
Connecting with others who are facing the same challenges is another aspect of this conference. "This is a wonderful opportunity for these guys to swap stories," said Douglas Plank, the coalition's executive vice president. "It's a cathartic experience, I'm told."
Plank and Roger Chapin co-founded the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes.
The coalition has four goals, Plank said. The first is to conduct the conference, which will bring all the services and opportunities available to injured and disabled veterans under one roof. Others are to encourage the business world to hire veterans and to help family members of injured and disabled servicemembers find lodging while visiting their servicemember.
A servicemember's injuries often affect others. The coalition's family support network has found ways to help alleviate financial and emotional burdens of severely wounded veterans and their families who travel to be with their loved ones. One aspect of the network is the "Host a Hero's Family" program, which arranges private housing for families visiting wounded servicemembers. The coalition's last tenet is helping wheelchair-bound veterans get around their own homes more easily.
"Homes for Wheelchair-bound Heroes" is a program that will offer disability- adapted new or renovated homes at little or no cost to the veterans. The program will be funded in part by the Homes for Wheelchair-Bound War Heroes Fund. Chapin said at the Nov. 9 kick-off luncheon that the rest of the funding is expected to come from donations and gifts-in-kind.
It won't be all business, though. There are events designed to let the veterans relax, enjoy themselves and be honored. There is a tribute gala planned for Dec. 9 with top country singers scheduled to perform.
There also will be time to visit the area theme parks and a special farewell dinner and concert performance at the House of Blues with actor, director and producer Gary Sinise, who played the character Lt. Dan in the movie "Forrest Gump," and the Lt. Dan Band that he's a founding member of.