Military News

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Charities Provide Relief to Bethesda's Wounded, Families

By Sarah Fortney, National Naval Medical Center Public Affairs

BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- The National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) treated more than 500 combat-injured service members, each accompanied by an average of three family members, in 2010.

As many of the family members leave their jobs to be with their wounded service member, NNMC staff works with several charitable groups to ensure the needs of the families, as well as the wounded, ill and injured are met.

The charitable groups provide a variety of goods and services, ranging from clothing, plane tickets, medical assistance and financial grants.

"These families aren't prepared, and when they find out [their loved one has been injured], they drop everything immediately, some of these families are here for months, and that's just here, then they could move on to another facility and be there for months," said Dawn Van Skike, of the Semper Fi Fund. "The wounded, ill and injured are more motivated if their family members are here. Our organization helps with that."

The Semper Fi Fund is just one of the many organizations helping to provide relief for troops and their family members.

"If there's a need, it's immediately addressed and handled. Our goal is to help with that need," said Van Skike. Be it medical or non-medical assistance, "Our goal is to meet and get to know all the families and let them know we're here for them."

The Semper Fi Fund provides relief to service members, including transportation assistance, home grants, adaptive housing support, education and career transition assistance. Since its establishment in 2004, the 501-1 (c) (3) organization has given out more than 24,000 grants, totaling more than $44 million.

The Inpatient Warrior and Family Liaison Office (IWFLO) works with a number of organizations throughout the year to ensure needs are met, said Chief Brian O'Keefe, IWFLO officer. Some of the organizations O'Keefe works with include the Aleethia Foundation, the Wounded Warrior Project, Armed Forces Foundation, Soldier's Angels, United Services Organization, the Fisher House, the Oakleaf Club of Greater Washington, D.C., and many others.

"I think we've done just about everything we could come up with, from boarding pets to helping families from losing their homes. The only problem we can't solve is the one that we don't know about," said O'Keefe.

Navy Safe Harbor also works with benevolent organizations to ensure resources are provided to patients and their loved ones. Since its establishment in 2005, the Navy-run program provides one to two non-medical care managers at all the major medical treatment facilities throughout the country, providing non-medical care management.

"We're going to be with you from the time you enter those doors, throughout the time you're in the Navy," said Cmdr. Shauna Hamilton, non-medical care manager for Navy Safe Harbor. "They'll be getting a phone call, letting them know that everything is taken care of so all they need to do is focus on taking care of their loved one, and we'll make that as easy as possible."

Benevolent organizations, and those that assist with coordination of their efforts, work quickly and efficiently, said Hamilton. Additionally, the Wounded Warrior Battalion East — Bethesda Detachment also works with benevolent organizations, providing for the wounded, ill and injured Marines at the hospital, said Lt. Col. Michael Wall, detachment officer-in-charge.

"[Charitable groups] do an awesome job helping the wounded, ill and injured warriors and their family members," said Wall. "They help the family members whether they're [organizing] a dinner, assisting them in shipping [belongings] back to their home address...We're very grateful for the support and everything they do."

Marine Corps Liaison Office (MCLO) Events/Charitable Organizations Coordinator Sgt. Joe Bradley added that all groups are afforded an opportunity to assist. The MCLO also works with numerous community organizations to coordinate events for the Wounded Warriors.

"We want to be able to maximize the benefits for the Marines," said Bradley.

"We really do grow a relationship with these families," said Van Skike. "We've become such a part of their family in the time of crisis...you bond."

Semper Fi Fund is also one of the many organizations that follow up with families to check on their well-being, as the wounded, ill and injured return home to face a new set of challenges.

Robin Dawes, whose husband, a Marine, was injured in Afghanistan in 2007, said she feels the hospital staff and members of these charitable organizations have become like family. After her husband, Gary, was injured, they spent about a month in the Intensive Care Unit at NNMC.

"It was a very emotional experience," said Dawes. "We continuously had to go back for surgeries...we're still coming here."

The IWFLO has been one of her main points of contact, said Dawes.

"They always make sure we have a place to stay, and everything we need," she added.

Like many families with an injured loved one, bills at home can seem out of hand.

Dawes said the Navy Relief Society stepped in to lend her family a hand.

"We have people who come to us simply to see how we are doing," said Dawes. "When you've been doing this for three and a half years, it's nice to know who's there and who you can count on and that you won't be forgotten. The last thing you want to worry about is financial [issues]. You have to concentrate on getting your significant other better."

All organizations, including federally-approved and private organizations, have an opportunity to donate their goods and services to the wounded, ill and injured and their family members. We are looking forward to expanding our relationship with benevolent organizations as we merge with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create a world class medical treatment facility for beneficiaries and their families. For more details, contact the IWFLO at 301-319-6805.

For more news from National Naval Medical Center, visit www.navy.mil/local/nnmc/.

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