The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is one of the most important organizations in support of American veterans. Through the organization, veterans have access to free programs that fill in many of the gaps left by government initiatives. When the organization began, a handful of injured veterans were helped. Tens of thousands of individuals each year, as well as their families and caregivers, now benefit from WWP’s hard work.
Over the years, WWP has developed programs focused on three primary areas: connecting, serving, and empowering. WWP supports veterans in developing healthy relationships with their loved ones and meaningful connections with their peers, their communities, and their service providers. For WWP, serving veterans means providing for mental and physical health, including reentry services, as well as career and benefits counseling. The final aim, empowerment, involves giving veterans the tools they need to live life on their own terms. Through programs under this umbrella, participants learn how to become mentors to their peers and ensure that everyone gets the support they need.
To meet these three goals, WWP identifies and lobbies for a number of legislative policies each year. The organization’s specific goals depend on the attitudes of government officials and the demonstrated needs of the people they serve. Last year, for example, WWP pushed for better reproductive services for service members and their spouses. The organization lobbied for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay for in-vitro fertilization and other treatments for individuals who have lost their reproductive abilities due to service-related injuries. Congress passed a bill making this possible, and President Obama signed it into law.
Now, with a new administration in power, WWP has identified several new legislative priorities, including:
Better TBI Care Programs
Approximately 33,000 veterans have experienced moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the line of duty. Unfortunately, there aren’t many programs in place to serve the needs of this large population. Often, young men and women end up living in geriatric long-term care facilities, rather than homes specialized for their needs. People in their twenties and thirties quickly lose hope for the future when they are placed in a geriatric nursing home, despite the fact that they still have decades of life left to live. Current VA programs do not meet the needs of individuals with TBI. With specialized programs designed for people with TBI, these individuals could thrive.
TRICARE and Medicare Reform
Many service members face high costs for healthcare due to an unnecessary rule. Men and women who are medically retired from service due to injuries are forced to add Medicare coverage to the TRICARE they receive from the government. This policy was created because these individuals are unable to return to work, but the obligation dramatically increases annual insurance premiums for a group of people who are already very limited in their ability to earn money. Those who are later able to return to work must keep their Medicare for up to eight and a half years before regular TRICARE coverage resumes. Congress needs to find a solution that provides the necessary healthcare without imposing difficult financial burdens.
Greater Government/Nonprofit Cooperation
Veterans stand to benefit a great deal from expanded cooperation between the government and nonprofit providers. In the past, partnerships like the Warrior Care Network have significantly increased access to mental health care. This network includes four academic medical centers that now provide services to veterans through the VA, for seamless movement from government to private mental health care. Similar partnerships with other veteran service organizations could create new opportunities for veterans to receive care and connect to the community around them. WWP is dedicated to bringing such opportunities before Congress.
Improved Support for Caregivers
The Veterans and Caregivers Omnibus Health Services Act did much to improve the support that caregivers receive when caring for wounded veterans. The act provides better education and training, stipends, counseling, respite care, healthcare coverage, and support groups. This support is extremely important, but the resources for the program are limited, which puts its long-term sustainability at risk. Congress needs to address this issue and ensure the continued viability of the program by creating new funding sources. Letting the program collapse could create a number of new issues, while exacerbating existing healthcare problems.
Specialized Health Services
WWP has created an Independence Program that connects severely wounded veterans to special case managers. These case managers create customized plans for recovery in conjunction with caregivers. The goal of each plan is to help the veteran connect with their community, and engage in activities that bring joy and meaning to their life. More than 600 individuals, including those with TBI, benefit from this program. WWP hopes to collaborate with the VA to bring similarly specialized services to veterans. When it comes to wounded warriors, there’s no one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approach. By connecting people to individualized services, the VA can ensure that everyone’s physical, mental, and social needs are met.