The military provides world-class care while injured service members are in the hospital. But sometimes gaps open up between the support the military can provide, and the support the injured and their families need.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund helps bridge the gaps while they’re recovering in the Washington, DC, area at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.

Even after they return to their hometowns, YRF continues to help.





The Yellow Ribbon Fund provides free
HOTEL ROOMS for visiting relatives desperate to be at the side of their injured loved ones.

We provide free
TAXI RIDES to give them some freedom and control at a time when they control very little.

As injured service members recover and become outpatients, we provide free, furnished APARTMENTS for families who otherwise would have to endure the added stress of separation or crowding into a hotel room.

When a service member is injured, a family member or close friend leaves home to come help with the recovery, often for a year or longer. YRF’s FAMILY CAREGIVER PROGRAM has pioneered support for caregivers. We’re still one of the only service organizations to offer childcare and family-oriented activities, plus stress-relieving massages and spa visits, mutually supportive dinners out, empowering horseback rides, and more — all at no charge.

Meanwhile, after a life-changing injury, our innovative MENTORING PROGRAM helps injured service members build new lives through education and career guidance, networking, and job shadowing that opens doors.

After injured veterans return home, our AMBASSADOR PROGRAM connects them with volunteers all over the country. These “ambassadors” provide one-on-one support to ensure no one falls through gaps in community safety nets. (Read the program brochure.)

And when injured service members need an advocate to stand up for them, VOLUNTEER LAWYERS FOR VETERANS provide pro bono legal services.

Yellow Ribbon Fund volunteers and donors make it possible for injured service members and their families to enjoy sporting and cultural events, tours, outings, and get-togethers — MORE THAN 100 ACTIVITIES every year.

These events are more than just fun — they’re an important PART OF THE HEALING PROCESS. YRF activities offer stress-reducing breaks from the grueling rigors of recovery, while reducing isolation, nurturing family relationships, and building confidence.

Latest News on
Housing & Transportation:

“Free rental car smooths the road to recovery”

Latest News on
Support Programs:

“New PSA helps get the word out about YRF services”

Latest News on
Activities & Events:

“Celebrities honor the injured with help from YRF”

While Brian recovered from combat injuries, YRF helped his step-father Kevan Natario, left, and father Darin Messersmith, right, stay by his side with a free rental car and hotel.

Army Specialist Brian Messersmith is lucky — his father, mother, and stepfather all love him, and they all get along. That has helped all of them stay strong in the three weeks since Brian was nearly killed in an ambush in Afghanistan.

Brian was driving the last vehicle in a convoy when it was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG), according to his dad. The passenger in the seat beside him was killed instantly. Shrapnel was driven into Brian’s face, arms, and legs — so much shrapnel that the passengers in back thought Brian’s face had been blown off. They told him he couldn’t go on. But Brian insisted they couldn’t stay in the kill zone, either, and pushed on. A moment later a second RPG exploded right behind them, in the spot where they’d just been.

He finally brought the vehicle to a stop 400 meters up the road. But he kept trying hard to engage the enemy, even as the medic was trying just as hard to get morphine in him. It was Brian’s second close call — the first was a suicide bomber. He’d been in Afghanistan four months.

With all his parents by his side, he’s now working to overcome a traumatic brain injury in addition to injuries to an eye and an ear. His mother, Serena, is staying with him as his caregiver, officially known as a non-medical attendant (NMA). The military makes accommodations for each injured service member to have one NMA, usually a family member or close friend.

His father Darin and step-father Kevan Natario are staying in a nearby Marriott. The hotel shuttle could take them to the gates of Walter Reed, but from there they had to walk across the sprawling medical center complex to the building where Serena and Brian are housed. Darin is battling a brain tumor and a shattered neck. Kevan is an amputee. They needed a better way to get around.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund stepped in with a free rental car, provided in partnership with NextCar Auto Rentals, part of Jack and Dottie Fitzgerald’s FitzMall Organization. With it, Brian’s parents can run errands and easily go back and forth whenever they need to.

Then we found out that Darin and Kevan were scheduled to return to their homes in Idaho the day before Brian was scheduled for another critical surgery. They desperately wanted to see him through it, but were facing the added expense of extending their stay.

“They shouldn’t have to face that expense,” says YRF’s director of housing and transportation, Diane Shoemaker. “They’ve given enough.” After setting them up with the rental car, Diane arranged for them to stay on at their hotel. Free cars and hotel stays are two of YRF’s core services, and more than a decade into the Long War, they’re still needed every day.

YRF’s Diane Shoemaker with Darin and Kevan, shortly after they picked up a free rental car and found out YRF would cover their hotel stay, too.

With their housing and transportation taken care of, Darin, Serena, and Kevan can devote all their energy to supporting Brian on the road to recovery.

The title of the new PSA reflects YRF’s reason for being: “They Served: Now They’ve Earned Our Help.”

Watch the PSA.

YRF’s very first public service announcement (PSA) will premiere soon on the Military Channel, thanks to parent company Discovery Communications. Not only will they air it for free, but with the help of Image Factory DC, they produced the 30-second PSA itself for free, too. That enables us to increase awareness while continuing to devote more than 80 cents of every dollar spent on America’s injured heroes and their families.

Many thanks to everyone who donated their time, talent, and equipment to bring our message to life!

At Discovery: Lauren DeNu, Ron Simon, and John Terp

The entire Image Factory DC team, especially: Steve Greenstein, Phil Spell, Erica Kern, and photographer Andy Hsu

Freelance voiceover talent Terry MacDonald and his wife Caroline.

Catholic University of America, whose staff provided settings and “extras” for photography…

And the injured veterans and their families who are helping other injured vets and families by helping YRF:

GySgt John Hayes & Elizabeth Hayes

SFC Cedric King & Khieda King

Sgt TJ Brooks & service dog Macho

The visitor watched, fascinated, as Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills demonstrated his high-tech prosthetic arm at Walter Reed’s Military Advanced Training Center (MATC). Travis told his man-made hand to turn to the left, and it did. Turn to the right — it did that, too. He encouraged his visitor to try talking to the hand to make it move. Nothing happened.

“It’s too loud in here,” Travis said, and he shouted for silence. The big, busy room, packed with staff and injured service members undergoing therapy, went still. Travis directed his visitor to try again — loudly.

“TURN RIGHT!” the visitor shouted at Travis’s prosthetic hand. The hand STILL didn’t move.

“Actually,” said Travis, “that’s not how it works.”

The room exploded in laughter, the visitor, too, because being a comedian, Stephen Colbert is always up for a good joke.

Without any fanfare, the down-to-earth star of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” had come down from New York to spend time visiting with the wounded warriors at MATC. Then he made his way to the hospital to visit with inpatients.

It was the latest celebrity visit arranged by the Yellow Ribbon Fund. “These visits serve two purposes,” explains YRF’s events and volunteers director, Ashley Keene, who shepherded Colbert through the Walter Reed visit. “First of all, it brightens your day to meet famous people. But more importantly, when someone successful puts everything else on hold to come spend time with you, it sends the message that you’re the one who’s really important. It says to our injured service members and their families: YOU are the ones who really deserve to be honored. And it’s important for them to hear that because it’s true.”

Other celebrities who’ve had the honor of spending time with injured warfighters, thanks to YRF, include country singer Maggie Rose, the famous boat captains of the hit reality TV show “Deadliest Catch”, Washington Redskins football stars, and members of the Washington Capitals hockey team. Click here to watch a video of the Caps’ visit to Walter Reed.