Hospital patients have held a special place in my heart for many years. With our recent life change from private practice to my husband being a surgeon in the US Army (and currently serving in Afghanistan), a different world has opened up — that of the wounded warrior.
Soldiers’ Angels, the non-profit organization with over 200,000 volunteers and thirty teams, supports all the branches of the armed forces. They work to ensure the well-being of the troops. From backpacks filled with goodies sent to the front line to soldiers in small outposts, to the daunting challenge of ensuring a wounded warrior's emotional and practical needs are met, the organization consistently follows through.
On Monday, October 26, the annual kickoff begins that pits branches against one another to raise money for the Soldiers’ Angels program Project Valour-IT. This program raises funds for Soldier's Angels to provide wounded warriors with laptops with voice-activated software. How the program started was the result of serious accident.
In 2005, then Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss was injured by an IED while serving as commander of a tank company in Iraq. He was a popular blogger, describing his life in the war zone, and he and his wife documented both his injury and his recovery.
While Chuck was recuperating from major wounds to his extremities, which included the loss of some fingers, he wanted to keep in touch with his troops, and also with those in the blogosphere. When Soldiers’ Angels asked if there was anything they could do for him, he told them he wanted a computer with voice-activated software. Although the group’s founder, Patti Patton-Bader, had never purchased a computer or the software before, she found one and sent it. Upon receiving it Ziegenfuss said, "It was the first time I felt whole since I'd woken up wounded in Landstuhl." (Landstuhl is the major military medical center where the wounded are flown after being treated and stabilized in the field).
Thus, a serious tragedy provided the seeds for a major charity. Chuck (now Major Ziegenfuss) recovered. He also founded Project Valour-IT, in memory of his father, the late SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, who served first as a medic, then as a nurse in the US Army.
Project Valour-IT helps supply three key pieces of technical equipment that greatly boost a soldier’s self-confidence and recovery process after a significant injury. First, it provides computers with voice-activated software to soldiers who are unable to use a traditional keyboard. The Department of Defense provides the adaptive software.
In addition, Wii video game systems, which require whole body engagement, are donated to physical therapy departments at military medical centers. While games like Wii Sports Resort are fun for teens at home, they also provide a way to help patients with eye-hand coordination and gross motor movement.
Many soldiers who have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a difficult time with memory loss and navigation. So Project Valour-IT gives them handheld GPS units. This not only helps them get to where they need to go, but gives them the ability to program a day's worth of stops, and it can store directions to home and other favorite locations. This not only greatly enhances their self-confidence, but helps them on the road to independence.
All of these technologies are key to helping a soldier recover. Recovery is neither easy nor quick, but having the right equipment greatly helps address immediate physical needs, self-esteem, and outlook on life.
In order to meet the growing needs of veterans, independent projects such as this fill a critical need. One can donate through the Soldiers’ Angels website, or come over to The Kitchen Dispatch and donate on behalf of TEAM ARMY. Of course, this milspouse doesn't care which branch of the military you decide to honor — only that you follow through and help the thousands of wounded warriors who need and deserve our support.