The military provides world-class medical care for injured service members. 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 fill the gaps throughout the recovery process, from hospital to hometown.
Whether they’re recovering in the Washington, DC, area at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, or back in their home communities, YRF provides real support for real heroes.
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VETERAN & FAMILY PROGRAMS
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, and more — all at no charge.
We also provide free HOTEL ROOMS for visiting relatives desperate to be at the side of their injured loved ones.
We provide free RENTAL CARS and 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.
Meanwhile, after a life-changing injury, our innovative MENTORING PROGRAM helps injured service members start planning for the future, with education and career guidance, networking, and job shadowing that opens doors.
Yellow Ribbon Fund volunteers and donors also make it possible for the injured and their families to enjoy sporting and cultural events, tours, outings, and get-togethers. Combined with those of the Family Caregiver Program, we organize 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, facilitating mutual support, and building confidence.
After injured veterans return home, our AMBASSADOR PROGRAM connects them with volunteers all over the country. These “ambassadors” provide one-on-one support to help them build new lives and ensure no one falls through gaps in community safety nets. If needed, ambassadors can even refer veterans and their families to YRF-funded legal services.(Read the Ambassador Program brochure.)
Veterans facing more complex issues receive additional support from YRF’s WELLNESS PROGRAM. Our staff social worker help empower them to find short- and long-term solutions to financial, physical, emotional, legal, and family challenges. Financial problems and post-traumatic stress are the top two issues facing those in need.
We’re also building a supportive community of veterans in partnership with Blue Titan Fitness of Rockaway, NJ. The veteran athlete ambassadors on YRF’s TAKING UP FITNESS (TUF) TEAM have personally experienced the healing power of community fitness, and now inspire and mentor their fellow vets. (Visit the TUF Team website.)
In addition, our FAMILY CAREGIVER PROGRAM continues to provide support to the caregivers of injured veterans after they return home. Retreats and outings for mutual support, VA guidance, scholarships, and career mentoring help caregivers adapt to their new role.
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“Mentoring helps turn dreams into reality”
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Veteran & Family Programs:
“Recruited to represent his country at Invictus Games — but how to pay for the bike?”
Army SGT Evan Cole was still in a wheelchair recovering from combat injuries when he first met YRF’s mentoring director Bob Talbot at Walter Reed. The Mentoring Program begins assisting injured service members early in the healing process. Evan was interested in architecture, so Bob took him to the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC.
College campuses are familiar turf for Bob, who spent 42 years at CUA, including as dean of admissions. But for Evan, it was foreign territory. After touring the campus and meeting with faculty, Evan asked uneasily, “Would I have to live on post?” It took his puzzled civilian hosts a moment to realize he meant on campus.
He’s come a long way. After recovery and four years at CUA, he was back on his feet and graduating with a degree in architecture last spring.
Evan was one of the first injured service members Bob helped transition from the military to college. Since then he’s helped many others do the same, making introductions, guiding them through the application process, and writing recommendations.
“We took advantage of Bob’s experience in admissions,” says SGT Matt White, who was injured while in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne and is now studying nursing. “He set up appointments with the dean and the admissions office, and arranged campus tours. It made the process easier, since most of us have been away from school for the past three or four years.”
SGT Randy Tharpe, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, will also graduate this May with a BA in business management. Others are studying music, physical therapy, and engineering, to name a few. Most recently, Bob arranged for Navy medical corpsman Ken Schwartz to meet with a pre-med advisor.
“We were just talking, and he asked me what my plans were,” recalls Marine Sgt TJ Brooks. Bob helped TJ explore his interests in engineering and golf, leading TJ to pursue a degree in golf course management.
The Yellow Ribbon Fund’s support remains available for as long as the healing continues. Following Evan’s graduation, Bob set up appointments for him at architectural firms. He’s now in graduate school, with a new career ahead of him.
When Blake Johnson was recruited to try out for Team USA, it was proof of how far he’d come since the accident that wrecked his leg and nearly wrecked his life. But cycling is an expensive sport — too expensive for a medically retired veteran.
Blake had enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17. An Army brat and an athlete, a military career came naturally to him. He trained to repair Apache Longbow helicopter armaments, electronics, and avionics systems, and in 2012 he deployed to Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. He came home uninjured.
But for returning veterans, home can prove more dangerous than the combat zone. A motor vehicle accident shattered his patella, femur, and tibia, plus caused additional serious leg trauma. During two years of physical therapy, there were days when he was on top of the world and days when it seemed like he was getting nowhere.
Getting involved in team sports again made the difference. He had thought his injury meant that part of his life was over, but he discovered that wasn’t true. He was soon competing in wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, shotput, discus, and even CrossFit.
He joined the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s Veteran TUF Team (Taking Up Fitness), and joined in reaching out to help other recovering veterans. Adaptive sports helped change his mindset. He’s stronger, healing faster, and no longer feels like his injury took away the athletics he loves.
Then came the invitation to try out for the Invictus Games in swimming and cycling.
The Invictus Games started in Great Britain and debut next year in the U.S. The word ‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered’. It embodies the fighting spirit of wounded, injured, and ill military service personnel and what these tenacious men and women can achieve, post injury. The Games harness the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation, and generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.
For Blake, though, cycling didn’t seem possible.
Then Performance Bicycle stepped up and partnered with the Yellow Ribbon Fund to sponsor him. Recently at the Performance Bicycle shop in Columbia, Md., Blake was outfitted with every piece of equipment and clothing he needs to prepare for the 2016 Games in May.
As more and more injured veterans return home from military hospitals, the Yellow Ribbon Fund partners with communities and organizations nationwide to continue providing the support they deserve. Our Wellness and Ambassador Programs and the TUF Team help fill the gaps with community efforts like this one — serving those who have served us.