The drawdown of America’s military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is welcome news to the millions of weary men and women that have been deployed, often multiple times, to those hostile and unforgiving places. But for far too many returning veterans, the harsh reality of war has been replaced by the indifference of a nation that professes its gratitude yet doesn’t meet its solemn obligations to them.
More than 50,000 U.S. troops have been physically wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Many who otherwise would have been killed were saved by modern medical and battlefield technology. Thousands have sacrificed limbs and as many as 300,000 suffer from the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
On an average day, one active duty soldier commits suicide every hour. Unemployment, divorce and homelessness among wounded veterans are much higher than the national average, and female veterans are four times as likely to be homeless as their male counterparts.
Since its establishment in 2004, the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, based in Leesburg, has provided an invaluable lifeline to thousands of combat-wounded veterans of the War on Terror. The non-profit, non-partisan organization is distinguished from other veteran-focused groups by its direct financial assistance to America’s wounded heroes.
Its emergency financial aid program has stopped foreclosure proceedings on veterans’ homes and kept their vehicles from being repossessed. The charity regularly provides gift checks to cover meals, medical and utility bills, clothing, car repairs and even baby diapers.
David Walker took the helm of the Coalition in October 2012. Shortly thereafter, he consolidated its lean headquarters staff from the New York City area to Leesburg to be close to key federal agencies, like the Veterans’ Administration, and to benefit from favorable office lease rates.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill not lobbying, but raising awareness of the injustices we see daily among our returning soldiers,” said Walker, president and CEO of the Coalition. “We think there’s something inherently wrong about the wealthiest nation in human history sending its sons and daughters off to war, then telling them to rely on the kindness of strangers to avert a homecoming scarred by unemployment, poverty and homelessness. Frankly, I wish there was no need for an organization like ours. But our work is more important now than perhaps ever.”
In addition to its Emergency Financial Aid program, the Coalition recently held its signature annual event, the Road to Recovery Conference & Tribute, in Orlando. More than 100 wounded veterans, and their families, attended the all-expense-paid, week-long event in December, created to help them get back on their feet and assimilate into the civilian workforce.
This year, the Coalition is hosting three regional conferences, including a couples retreat to be held in the Northern Virginia area.
The Coalition also awards grants to like-minded organizations that share its mission, such as Boulder Crest Retreat in Bluemont. Boulder Crest is a rural sanctuary where wounded warriors and their families can enjoy non-clinical, recreational therapeutic activities aimed at assisting with their physical, mental and spiritual recovery. The Coalition provided a grant to fund the construction of a therapeutic fishing pier for the retreat.
For more information on the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes go to www.saluteheroes.org.
Photo: Coalition CEO (right to left) David Walker in Colorado with Lovettsville native Rob Jones.