Tempered Steel: A Way to Breakdown Burn Stigma

By Luana Schneider, AW2 Mother

For Luana Schneider (center) creating an opportunity for the public to interact with Tempered Steel wounded warriors will help break burn stigma

Editor’s Note: CaringBridge is a participant in the AW2 Community Support Network.

While at the AW2 Symposium, everyone was very interested in our brand new non-profit that we were starting: Tempered Steel, The Stories Behind the Scars.

We decided to co-found Tempered Steel after my son Scott was seriously wounded and disfigured in Iraq in November 2006. Our first hand experience in handling the responses to Scott’s injuries from civilians and military alike, compelled us to break down the barriers between wounded and disfigured Veterans and those who only see their scars. Tempered Steel’s goal is to exchange fear for enlightenment by exposing the very real human stories behind the wounds of war.

In deciding to co-found Tempered Steel, we contacted other severely wounded military members and asked for their participation and involvement. The response was overwhelmingly, “YES.” Our severely injured military members have had to learn how to deal with the public’s perception on who they are on nothing more than a glance from a stranger. As these wounded explained, “they are in essence, still the person they were before the injuries… on the inside.” Each of them feel they had not fundamentally changed. The only difference was the way they looked and how the public now viewed them.

Each disfigured hero, in their own way, has had to learn how to function in a society that in many ways has shunned them or are even outright horrified at the mere sight of these wonderful heroic men and women. Through the photo introspective and videography of these wounded warriors, Tempered Steel will reintroduce society to the stories behind the scars. These wounded warriors from the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars allowed the photographer and videographer to share in their vulnerability, strength, humor, and adaptability. The very personal glimpses into the eyes of these military heroes will bring about a greater compassion and empathy that these injured heroes greatly desire from their communities. By exposing their wounds with great humility, they desire to open a dialogue between the disfigured and disabled world and the communities they live in.

Our wounded warriors will be talking to schools, community groups and at public functions. They will talk not only about their injuries and how the perceptions of others make them feel, but also will also teach individuals to treat others with disabilities and disfigurements the same as they would like to be treated. We plan on working diligently to have our seriously wounded military members play a vital role in their communities.

If you  would like to learn more, please visit: http://www.TemperedSteelInc.org

CaringBridge: Online Support for Wounded Warriors

By Judy Troccano, Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: CaringBridge is a participant in the AW2 Community Support Network.

CaringBridge provides free, personalized websites to help wounded warriors and their Families stay connected to their strongest support groups–their extended Family members. These websites are designed specifically to help Families communicate critical information and stay in touch in a healthcare crisis. After a combat injury, setting up a CaringBridge website is the fastest, easiest way to keep in touch with Family, friends and those still deployed in the field.

The free, nonprofit web service simplifies communication by providing one central place to update everyone. A CaringBridge website includes a journal to post health updates, a photo album, and a guestbook for loved ones to leave messages of support and encouragement. It connects a Soldier’s entire community, creating a network of support for everyone involved.

Families going through a serious health event can be overwhelmed by medical terminology, treatment decisions and hospital visits. In times like these, support from extended Family and friends can be essential.

The website can be an important tool to help wounded warriors reduce isolation and stress in a difficult time, giving them a much-needed outlet for sharing their experience and receiving support.

CaringBridge has grown to host more than 170,000 personal sites that connect over half-a-million people daily. The free websites are not just for war-related injuries–they are also used for Families facing cancer, a serious car accident, premature birth and much more. Learn more or create a site today at www.CaringBridge.org.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Delegates Meet Key Resources at Symposium

AW2 Symposium delegates James and Diana Hume meet with representatives of the San Antonio Vet Center at AW2's Community Support Exhibit Hall.

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

There’s so much energy in the Community Support Exhibit Hall here at the AW2 Symposium. Delegates are learning about valuable resources provided by the 23 organizations attending.

I got a chance to talk to most of the exhibitors today, and their enthusiasm was contagious. So many had stories to share about their work with wounded warriors and Families—and their plans to expand to serve even more Soldiers and Veterans. These organizations are an incredible example of the commitment and compassion that thousands of organizations exhibit toward America’s wounded warriors every single day.

The organizations at this year’s Community Support Exhibit Hall include:

* Denotes organizations in the AW2 Community Support Network

Three years ago, Symposium delegates asked AW2 to help them learn more about the resources available to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. In response, AW2 launched the AW2 Community Support Network in 2009 to increase local community support for wounded warriors to assist in their reintegration and long-term success.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Community Support is Critical

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

The Warrior Games are about to start and I can’t wait to see our athletes, especially our Army athletes, compete. While most of the attention will be focused on these athletes, and rightfully so, I don’t want to overlook a key component of the Warrior Games—community support.

I encourage everyone in the Colorado Springs area to come out, watch the Warrior Games, and get to know the athletes. Behind every athlete is an inspiring story and there will be lots of great competition to see. If you can’t be here, follow all the action on the U.S. Paralympics website.

We would not be able to have the Warrior Games without the outstanding support we’ve received from the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs community as a whole. Thank you to all who have helped and will help with the Warrior Games.

I would also invite you to learn more about how, through our Community Support Network, local communities like Colorado Springs can help support our wounded warriors all across the country. The AW2 Community Support Network exists to connect the Army’s most severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families with caring organizations that can help them transition to life post-injury. I encourage you to visit the website and discover all the ways you can help a wounded warrior.

Networking with Resources

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Today at the AW2 Annual Training, Maureen Pratt from the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy and I presented on “Networking with Resources” to educate the AW2 staff about the National Resource Directory and the AW2 Community Support Network.

While the AW2 staff does a great job networking with all types of organizations to connect AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families with the resources available to them, AW2 wanted to ensure everyone knew about the updated and new tools.

Maureen gave a great overview of the National Resource Directory (NRD), an online database of more than 10,000 organizations available to support wounded warriors. The NRD is a partnership effort between the Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, and wounded warriors should look there first when they need to find a useful resource. NRD contains federal and military programs, state and local organizations, nonprofits, and Veteran service organizations, and it was recently redesigned to make it even easier for wounded warriors to find the resources they’re looking for. AW2 staff were appreciative of having a central, federal resource to find specific resources for their wounded warriors.

The AW2 Community Support Network was also well-received—I was thrilled to recognize several staff members for recommending quality organizations and for building warm relationships with the organizations that do such a good job supporting AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. We talked about ways to strengthen relationships with AW2 Community Support Network organizations—these organizations can participate in quarterly conference calls with AW2 leadership and even submit blogs about their success stories and upcoming events for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.

To the AW2 Soldiers and Veterans—you can recommend organizations, too. Feel free to send me an e-mail at AW2CommunitySupportNetwork@conus.army.mil with the organizations that have made a difference in your recovery and transition.

My Day with Service Dogs

By Ann Yingling, AW2 Advocate

I had a really cool day recently! Jeff, one of the Veterans I work with, is in the process of receiving a psychiatric service dog through Paws 4 Vets, a member of the AW2 Community Support Network.

I say “process” because it is certainly that. There are applications, interviews, home studies, and “bumps” to attend. (A bump is the process of meeting various dogs to see if any of them bond with the human. And believe me—the dog is the one doing the choosing!) There are trainers to meet, training to attend, and on and on. And it is for good reason that the process is so meticulous—this is serious stuff, not only for the person who receives the dog, but for the dog, too. It’s finding a life partner and making a life-long commitment!

But back to my day… I traveled to Fort Stewart where Paws 4 Vets has a pilot program with the Warrior Transition Battalion there. Both Cadre and Soldiers assigned to the WTB will be training the dogs, which will eventually be assigned to a Soldier or Veteran. Attending that day at Fort Stewart were Terry Henry, Director of Paws 4 Vets, his daughter Kyria who trains the trainers, the Soldiers who will be training the dogs, and Jeff and his parents.

We started out with basic introductions—Jeff and another Veteran (Navy!) who will also be receiving a dog, told the group their “story”. It was very emotional—both heart breaking and heart warming, listening to these two Veterans talk about their service in Iraq, their struggles with PTSD, and the hope for a “normal” life that the dogs have given them. All the while they were speaking, several beautiful golden retrievers and a black lab lay quietly and patiently at their feet. The Soldiers who are training the dogs then spoke about how this program has given them something worthwhile to get excited about—knowing that they will be helping out a fellow wounded warrior. They also told of the benefits received from the dogs in their own healing process.

Then we got to see Sallie, one of the goldens, in action! She showed us just one way that she will be helping a wounded warrior who suffers from agoraphobia (the fear of crowds or open spaces). If Jeff (for example) and Sallie are out in public, and someone is approaching Jeff from behind, Sallie will nudge Jeff in a special way to alert him. If Jeff is not paying attention, Sallie will nudge a second time, a little harder. If the person has approached within an arm’s length of Jeff, Sallie gives a very definitive bark to alert him. Another way a psychiatric service dog has been known to help is that they can “sense” things we humans can’t. For example—for someone who is prone to seizures, flashbacks, or nightmares, the dog might sense the event before it actually happens. Dogs have been known to warn a person of an oncoming seizure—alerting the person so that he can get to a safe place before the onset of the seizure. Dogs can wake a person up before the he becomes too entrenched in a nightmare or flashback. Also, the responsibility of having a service dog is another “hidden” benefit. A dog has to be let out and has to be walked and fed. These responsibilities can help get a person out of the house, give the person a mission or something to focus on.

At Fort Stewart that day, I saw lots of neat “tricks” that a psychiatric service dog can do and I also witnessed the most basic benefit of a service dog: the love and companionship provided. No one loves you as unconditionally as a dog!

AW2 Community Support Network Update

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Thirteen new organizations have joined the AW2 Community Support Network since February 1. These organizations want to publicly show their support for severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families through the AW2 Community Support Network, which is now 125 organizations strong.

I encourage all AW2 Community Support Network organizations to submit their success stories and upcoming opportunities so AW2 can share the information with all AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families through the AW2 blog and publications. In the last few weeks, we have posted information about other AW2 Community Supporters, including the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injuries, Our Military Kids, Give an Hour, the National Military Family Association, and Colorado Technical University. I’d love to hear from more organizations as well.

New Organizations (registered between February 1 and March 9, 2010)

Any AW2 Soldier, Veteran, or Family member can nominate an organization for the AW2 Community Support Network by contacting me at AW2CommunitySupportNetwork@conus.army.mil or (703) 325-0397. For more information, please visit the AW2 Community Support Network section of the AW2 Web site.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Grants Available from Our Military Kids

By Mary Carolyn Voght, Guest Blogger from Our Military Kids

For some military children, the stress and anxiety caused by a parent’s deployment do not end once their father or mother has returned home.  Children of injured servicemembers face new challenges that come with learning to adapt to physical, mental, and emotional changes in a loved one.  Our Military Kids, a non-profit based in Washington, DC, is a member of the AW2 Community Support Network and provides grants to children of injured servicemembers for extracurricular activities.  The grants help these children cope with the strain of having a parent recovering from physical and/or mental wounds by getting them involved in a sports, fine arts, or academic tutoring program.

Since January 2009, Our Military Kids has awarded over 200 grants to Families of the severely injured in 32 states across the country, including one Family from Indiana with six children.

“You cannot believe the difference this makes for my Family,” the mother told Our Military Kids. Her children received grants for gymnastics, music lessons, martial arts, and tutoring. “There is no way we could have afforded all of these activities without the grants, particularly with their father still recovering in the hospital.”

Children of severely injured servicemembers are eligible for a grant covering up to $500 of an activity.  To apply, Families must submit the following documentation:

  1. Completed application form
  2. Servicemember’s most recent military orders (even if they are retired)
  3. Form of ID for the child (birth certificate or military ID)
  4. Brochure or flyer documenting the cost of the activity
  5. Letter from the servicemember’s case manager certifying that they are injured as a result of being deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom

Our Military Kids processes applications within a week to ten days.  Once a grant has been approved, the check is mailed directly to the organization providing the activity and an award packet is mailed to the Family.

In addition to receiving a letter, certificate and patch with their grant, children of injured service members also receive a special reMIND dog tag and ring provided by the Bob Woodruff Foundation.  The rings and dog tags help raise awareness about war injuries that cannot be seen, and their prevalence shows that many Americans want to support and honor all of our wounded warriors.

Our Military Kids is pleased to recognize injured military personnel and their Families for their service to our nation.  Helping these children to participate in an extracurricular activity of their choice is a small way of saying thank you to those who are sacrificing so much for our country.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

AW2 Community Support Network Update

By Sarah Greer, WTC Stratcom

Between December 15 and February 1, 12 new organizations have registered for the AW2 Community Support Network to demonstrate their support for AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. I encourage you to visit their Web sites to learn more about the unique services each organization offers.

AW2 also recently hosted the first quarterly conference call with AW2 Community Supporters and focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and AW2 encouraged AW2 Community Supporters to send their success stories for use in the AW2 blog and other AW2 publications. AW2 Veteran Matthew A. Staton also joined the call to discuss how he manages his PTSD and TBI and the important role AW2 Community Supporters have played in his recovery and transition.

Federal Organizations (registered between December 15 and February 1):

Additional Organizations (registered between December 15 and February 1):

Any AW2 Soldier, Veteran, or Family member can nominate an organization for the AW2 Community Support Network by contacting me at AW2CommunitySupportNetwork@conus.army.mil or (703) 325-0397. For more information, please visit the AW2 Community Support Network section of the AW2 Web site.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Scholarships Available for Spouses of Wounded or Fallen Service Members

The National Military Family Association has announced that it is now accepting scholarships for its Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program for spouses of wounded or fallen servicemembers. Scholarships are awarded to military spouses to obtain professional certification or to attend post secondary or graduate school.

Applications will only be accepted online at www.militaryfamily.org/scholarships and must be submitted by midnight on January 31, 2010. Scholarships will only be awarded only to military ID-carrying Uniformed Services’ spouses (active duty, retiree, Reserve, National Guard, and/or survivor). Scholarship award letters will be e-mailed to recipients no later than March 15, 2010 and winners will be announced on the National Military Family Association Web site in June.

The scholarship funds may be used for tuition, fees, and school room and board. They may not be used for books, rent, or previous education loans.

If selected for a scholarship, AW2 Spouses must provide the following information:

  • Copy of current military ID Card/DEERS card (front)
  • The name and address of the accredited university, college, or trade school at which you are registered
  • Home mailing address where a check can be mailed on June 1, 2010.
  • Additional verification information is required from those applying for the scholarship for the wounded or fallen. Please see the application for complete list

To learn more about the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program, please visit www.militaryfamily.org/scholarships.

The National Military Family Association is a member of the AW2 Community Support Network that is committed to strengthening and protecting the Families of the men and women currently serving, retired, wounded or fallen.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

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