Military Branch Supporters Engage in Friendly Competition to Aid Severely Wounded Servicemembers
Four virtual teams named for branches of the U.S. military are competing in a friendly online fundraising competition to raise money for Project Valour-IT. Valour-IT, a program administered by military support nonprofit Soldiers’ Angels, provides voice-controlled and adaptive laptop computers and other technology to help wounded soldiers with severe injuries move forward in their recovery, and reconnect with family and friends.
If the online competition meets its $100,000 fundraising goal, Soldiers’ Angels will be able to provide about 250 wounded warriors with the adaptive technology they need, said Beth Schietzelt, Soldiers’ Angels online coordinator. The online teams, which started participating on July 4 and will compete through Labor Day, have raised a little over $14,500 so far. Team Army is in the lead.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Barker, 32, of Fairbanks, Ark., recently received an iPad through the program to help him manage the damaging effects of injuries he sustained during a number of air assaults and raids while on tour in Iraq. The most severe of these wounds—traumatic brain injury (TBI)—causes him to struggle with short-term memory loss among other symptoms.
Lance Dowd, Soldiers’ Angels director of development and program manager for Valour-IT, said the iPad includes tools and applications that help TBI patients manage their memory loss and time management skills, and a GPS system to help them with the spatial challenges they often face. Prior to receiving the iPad, Barker handled hismemory loss by handwriting things he needed to remember and creating how-to PowerPoint presentations to recall even the simplest everyday tasks.
“You can be talking to somebody, having an important conversation, and five or 10 minutes later you’ve forgotten the whole thing,” he said. “Sometimes you even forget your own friend’s name. You might remember their face but can’t remember their name. It’s frustrating.”
Barker is married, and has a 2-year-old son. He was originally assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Squadron military working dog section at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. He is now stationed with the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, where he continues to receive medical treatment and physical therapy. The iPad, he said, is going to helptremendously, particularly with cutting down his hefty notepad collection.
Although injured several years ago, Barker waited a long time to receive a device through the program. Dowd said this was in part due to a lack of available funding. The number of soldiers in need regularly outpaces the financial support required to purchase the equipment.
As of now, more than 500 soldiers are waiting to receive the adaptive technology, which includeslaptops operated by voice-recognition technology, handheld GPS devices thatassist soldiers with the short-term memory loss and organizational challenges related to severe TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder, and whole-body video game systems, which under the guidance of physical therapists help to aid and speed recovery.
“A wounded warrior who is coping with severe wounds like the loss of limbs, sight or hearing, needs the familiar reassurance of doing something he could do before,” Schietzelt said. “Putting a voice-controlled laptop in front of a wounded hero gives him back a piece of his life and hope that he can do what he did before, even if he has to do it a bit differently now.”
Veteran medical center and health care facility representatives and caseworkers make requests for the equipment on behalf of wounded soldiers. The equipment is then allocated based on specific priority levels, with those who are most severely wounded and in need of adaptive technology being first on the list.
Interested supporters can join the competition by visiting soldiersangels.org or http://soldiersangels.givezooks.com/campaigns/valour2012 and making an online donation on behalf of their team of choice: Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force. Patrons can also help by spreading the word – and a link to the donation site – on their social networks and blogs.
ABOUT SOLDIERS’ ANGELS
Soldiers’ Angels is a volunteer-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing aid and comfort to military personnel and families. More than 200,000 volunteers provide assistance to the wounded, support for veterans, comfort for families of the fallen, and immediate response to unique difficulties. For more information, visit soldiersangels.org.