Tag Archives: wounded warriors

Do You Support Military Families? Prince Harry Does!

Yesterday, I, and several other NMFA employees and volunteers had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Invictus Games event at Fort Belvior, where the First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, along with His Royal Highness Prince Harry spoke about the importance of the games.

During the event, sixteen service members demonstrated their talents in a thrilling wheelchair basketball game. I had never seen a game like this before, and I spent the entire time just enthralled with the incredible grit, athletic ability and spirt of the players on the court. I couldn’t help but get excited about watching the games live when they come to the US in May of 2016.

The Invictus Games are a big deal, because they are about so much more than just playing sports and competing with other countries. These games are a driving force behind recovery and rehabilitation for wounded, injured and sick service members.


Prince Harry founded the Invictus games in the UK back in 2014, while serving in the military there. Reflecting on his two combat deployments in Afghanistan, he said “”There is very little that can truly prepare you for the reality of war. The experiences can be stark and long lasting.” This experience left him with a feeling of “responsibility to all veterans, who had made huge personal sacrifices for their countries, to lead healthy and dignified lives after service.”

The Invictus Games do just that. They bring recovering service members, and their families, together to focus on a goal, and work towards a better future together.


Here at NMFA, we also understand the importance of bringing families together to help them adjust to a new normal after a service connected illness or injury. At our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® camp, service members and their families connect with others on a similar healing journey. They share the feelings, struggles, and obstacles they have overcome with other families who just ‘get it.’ All while enjoying active, nature centered activities.

For the caretakers and children of these wounded service members, seeing their loved one participating in sport and physical activities can be as equally cathartic. A huge part of the military culture is grounded in physical activity and competition, and you can see the joy and admiration in the faces of the families as they watch their loved ones enjoying the activities they played before their injury.


Some of our service members show visible wounds–missing limbs and bodies marked by war–while others are battling invisible injuries. As many as 1 in 4 service members left Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries, PTSD, depression and anxiety. We are thrilled to see Invictus welcoming service members suffering from the invisible wounds of war, as well.

At Operation Purple, we often hear how difficult it can be for service members and their families to work through these invisible injuries. While the physical injuries take a toll on the body, the invisible wounded, like PTSD and anxiety, wreak havoc on the mind and soul. We’ve heard stories from families battling these ‘quiet’ injuries, that recovery isn’t always easy. But all families agreed: taking the first step and asking for help was the most important choice.

At the event, we were reminded only 1% of the country puts on a uniform and takes an oath to not leave a fallen comrade behind. We, as a country, take the same oath. We cannot leave them behind. We cannot leave their families behind.


Supporting programs, like Invictus and Operation Purple, is an easy way to give back to these families and let them know that they are not forgotten and we will not leave them behind.

Do you know any service members hoping to compete at the Invictis games next year? Will you be watching?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Operation Purple® Healing Adventures: Surviving Doesn’t Happen Alone


In the middle of the Pocono Mountains, families are learning to survive–and not just in the wilderness. Wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families gathered over the weekend at Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, for an Operation Purple Healing Adventure. Families spent three and a half days hiking, canoeing, conquering a ropes course, and finding their ‘new normal’ after their service member’s injury.

Though most wounds were invisible, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), other injuries gradually started to become more apparent as the activities took place. One Navy veteran, who was medically discharged because of a lumbar injury, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to take his children on a 3.5 mile hike to see a natural waterfall. The next morning, with a slower pace and slight limp, he joined his family for breakfast.

Service members know how to survive, and at Healing Adventures, their families are learning, too.

“Don’t let it touch the ground,” one Army veteran whispered to his daughters, as they lowered the American flag during camp’s nightly flag ceremony.

“Now fold diagonally 13 times into a triangle,” he instructed.

“Dad, I didn’t know you knew how to do that!” one daughter said.

He grinned, “I’ve done it a few times before.”

Healing Adventures isn’t only about the outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, parents take part in a group session with educators from Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS), where they speak openly about their struggles with injuries and life after military service. They also learn coping mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of their ‘new normal.’

An Army National Guard veteran shared, “When I came back from a deployment six years ago, things changed…and I just wondered when everything would stop changing. Being deployed, we knew each day would be different and we were prepared. Being home, you just want things the same. But each day is different…and it’s hard.”

On the second day of camp, families worked together to navigate hiking trails and a ropes course. They learned to communicate effectively, encourage consistently, and eventually, survived as a unit.

Overcoming obstacles are common for military families; constant moving, multiple deployments, mental illness, and visible and invisible injuries are hurdles that take skill and precision in conquering, but with the proper tools, navigation, and resources, like Healing Adventures, families find the confidence to tackle life together.

“This is the first year I’ve started to get involved with some veterans groups to retrain and reintegrate myself, and find my brotherhood and sisterhood of veterans. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back into ‘the normal world,’” said one Army Reserves dad.

As the weekend came to a close, and families roasted s’mores together recounting the day’s adventures, one thing was clear: surviving doesn’t happen alone.

Are you a veteran military family? What survival skills have you learned to cope with life after the military?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Life After Injury: Can We Go Back to Normal?

veteran-walking-with-daughterThe military changes people, and when that change is physical the adjustment can be especially difficult. When I first met Dave, he used to run to the gym, work out, run back and then ask me if I wanted to walk to dinner. We’d run the trails of Camp Lejeune together, swatting the swamp bugs along the way. He trained me for my first 5K, which was quite a feat since I couldn’t even run a mile when we started. Dave was definitely the fit one, while I was more like a couch potato with the appetite of a truck driver. I even managed to gain 25 pounds within our first 6 months of dating. Hawt, right?

But things changed, thanks to an injury that meant he would have his spine fused. After the surgery, we thought things would go back to normal—and the Marine Corps hoped so too. Unfortunately, the man who used to sprint around town dragging me behind him couldn’t run anymore. Doctors said he shouldn’t put “impact” on his fragile spine, or he might suffer another disc herniation . Passing a PT test wasn’t going to happen and, shortly after that, we separated from the Marine Corps.

The change came with lots of unsolicited fitness advice: “You should try swimming. That’s low impact.” Or “The elliptical is great!” and “Walking burns the same amount of calories as running if you do the same distance.” Um, thanks?

Seven years later, we are still adjusting. With the military far away in our rear view mirror, the changes are still right in front of us. Dave still can’t do the types of physical activities he enjoys most—although he does attempt them every so often. I’ve kept up with my running, for the most part, although I do often feel guilty enjoying an activity that we used to do together. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he is lucky: “Don’t worry about me – I have all my limbs, and can lead a normal life – there are people much worse-off.” Ah perspective….

That’s why our Operation Purple Healing Adventures® has always been one of my favorite things we do at our Association. Service members, with much more serious injuries than Dave’s, attend camp with their families and try to adjust to a “new normal.” A dad, whose main activity with their kids was sports, sometimes can’t even walk.

I remember watching a double amputee try to discipline his 4 year old, while the kid ran away from him. He was no match for a fully-functioning child. I couldn’t decide whether trying to help would make it worse, so I looked away and let them handle it together as a family.

Those dealing with PTSD seemed to have an even harder time. Their families had to make adjustments about where they sat and even how loudly they spoke.

I am proud that we are able to bring wounded families to our Operation Purple Healing Adventures. Over a decade of war has taken a vicious toll on them, and these families deserve everything we can give—whether it’s help with the next phase of their lives, beginning their healing process as a family, or even to just giving them a few moments of joy.

Have you ever had to adjust your activities because of an injury? How did it go?

Besa-PinchottiPosted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

Finding the Man She Married: Caregiver Receives Master Bedroom Makeover

For Tanya Abbas, being a military spouse is more than just dealing with deployments and packing up her home every three to four years to move to the next duty station.

Each day, she lays out medication for her husband, Dustin, who suffered a head injury while deployed in Iraq. She manages the household, takes care of her husband, and searches for glimpses of the man she married.


While Dustin can’t express himself the way he once did, he notices all that she does. Without Tanya knowing, he entered her in our Mother’s Day contest to win a master bedroom makeover from design firm Laurel & Wolf.

“When he got the head injury, he stopped being my husband that I have known for my whole life,” Tanya explains. “And all of a sudden, now I’m having to lay out his meds, and doing things around the house for him, and more than just being a wife.”


Military spouses are often more than just spouses. They’re support systems, volunteers, and in Tanya’s case, caregivers. Laurel & Wolf and the National Military Family Association partnered in this Master Bedroom Makeover because military families deserve to be recognized.

In 2010, the National Alliance for Caregiving reported 96% of caregivers were women, and 70% provide care to their spouse or partner. After more than a decade of war, service members return home with both visible and invisible wounds, and families become wounded, too.

Beaming with love, Tanya smiles and remembers the man she married, “It’s an indescribable feeling to… look at everything [and know]…that’s because my husband loves me.”

See Tanya and Dustin’s story, along with an awesome before and after of their master bedroom:

Laurel & Wolf :: Master Bedroom Makeover – Arizona from High Res Media on Vimeo.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Want to Take an Adventure with Your Military Family? Check This Out!

healing-adventures-dogsSummer may be winding down, but there are still some awesome opportunities for your military family to take one last trip, and attend one of our Operation Purple Family Retreats or Healing Adventures!

Bring your military family to an Operation Purple Family Retreat and find ways to reconnect after deployment. Or if a war injury has caused a shift in your family dynamic, attending an Operation Purple Healing Adventure will assist families in coping with, and overcoming, injuries and the stresses they cause.

We are still accepting applications for both Operation Purple Family Retreats, and Healing Adventures, but time is running out to take advantage of this FREE experience.

Still want to know more? Check out this military families first-hand account of their experience at a recent Operation Purple Family Retreat, tucked in the beautiful landscape of the Grand Tetons, in Wyoming.

So what are you waiting for? Your families next adventure is awaiting you!

Apply today to attend a Family Retreat or Healing Adventure!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Adjusting to an Unexpected Role: Caregiver

IMG_23000037656571-1Today, many military spouses are taking on a new role besides wife and mom. That new unexpected role is called caregiver. Never in a million years did I think I would become a caregiver at 34. Who knew? Hundreds of military spouses, like me, have taken on the caregiver role more frequently than people can ever imagine due to combat injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I don’t think many of us prepared for, or even anticipated, the added job title. Millions of unanswered questions and concerns are now a part of our life. But it doesn’t have to be a confusing and frustrating life. With the right resources, referrals, and people to help, what may seem like an unknown territory becomes manageable by getting information through social networks, and from wonderful organizations such as the National Military Family Association.

At first, I had to dig through a lot of information and learn not to be afraid of asking questions, even if it led me back to square one. Here is some of what I learned:

  • Be sure to attend all or most appointments with your spouse. It is important because you are becoming the advocate, the voice for your service member.
  • If you have a job and can’t get time-off, have someone there that your spouse agrees on. Someone who will relate everything back to you and the doctor if need be.
  • Make sure you have power of attorney for your spouse’s medical records. Medical information will not be released to you if you do not have one due to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or the parent of the service member.
  • Always ask questions if unclear: no question is a stupid question. If you are not getting answers or feel like your service member’s quality care if not up to standard, ask for someone else. It is always your right to obtain the best medical treatment for your loved one.
  • Take time out for yourself, even if it’s a hot bath and reading a magazine. You are no good as a caregiver physically or mentally if you are not well.

Being a caregiver is a continuous responsibility and I believe women, in particular, tend to think they can handle everything themselves. Most may not be as comfortable asking for help, especially when caring for an “invincible” service member. Not asking for help is a mistake—it’s important to get help when you need it and have your own support system in place.

As a caregiver, you can never really ‘get away’—you’re always there. But if you can find time for something else and get away from your daily routine, even for a short while, it can be great for your mind and health.

The best advice I would give to new caregivers is to be patient and be in it for the long haul. No one can tell you how long it will last, or if your spouse will get better. Don’t hesitate to get as much information as possible and know that people are there to support you, to lend a helping hand. You and your loved one are in it together, so just take it one day at a time.

And remember, love takes many forms and whenever you help each other, that form of love binds you closer than you can ever imagine.

Melissa-NovoaPosted by Melissa Novoa, Volunteer, Camp Pendleton, CA

Finding the Silver Lining: Military Family “Wins” in 2013

army-dad-with-babyOver the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the many ways that Washington is breaking faith with military families. Just in the last month, we learned that in 2014 the military will receive a pay increase of only 1 percent – the lowest such pay raise since the creation of the all-volunteer force. At the same time, we were told that cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases to military retiree pensions will be reduced starting in 2016. And just last week we learned the stateside commissaries may be eliminated in the next three years. These blows came at the end of a year in which military families watched as the programs and services they depend on were threatened by budget cuts. Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that military families feel that they are the big losers in Washington’s epic budget battles.

Fortunately, there were a few bright spots for military families in 2013. Both the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) included provisions to support military families and improve their quality of life.

As a parent, I was particularly pleased to see the NDAA provides a total of $30 million to assist public schools educating large numbers of military-connected children. Even better, the spending bill passed by Congress restored $65 million in Department of Education Impact Aid funds that had been cut by sequestration. These funds are used to compensate school districts for the loss of tax revenue due to the presence of a federal activity or federally connected students (like military kids). These two provisions mean public schools educating military children will receive much-needed financial support in 2014.

In 2013 some retiree families learned that they would no longer be eligible for TRICARE Prime because of the elimination of some TRICARE Prime Service Areas. This change struck many military family members as unfair and disruptive, and Congress agreed. The NDAA offers a one-time opportunity for those families to opt back in to TRICARE Prime. We have not yet received any information from TRICARE about how this policy will be implemented.

The NDAA recognized families of service members in Special Operations Command have unique needs that may not always be met by regular family support programs. To address these needs, Congress authorized $5 million to develop support programs dedicated to those families.

We were gratified to see Congress take on the issue of suicide among service members and military families in the NDAA. Our Association has long been concerned about suicides among military family members. We have heard reports the numbers may be increasing, but currently there is no data on the numbers, the causes, or how they can be prevented. We recommended Congress call for a study on this issue and were especially pleased to see this request included in the NDAA. The legislation also called for enhanced suicide prevention efforts for members of the reserve component.

Finally, we were pleased to see that the NDAA included provisions to care for wounded service members, their families and caregivers, and survivors. DoD was directed to improve assistance for Gold Star spouses and other family members in the days following the death of a service member. The legislation also aims to support wounded service members as they transition out of the military and seek civilian employment by providing additional information about disability-related employment and education protections in Transition Assistance Programs. Congress also directed DoD to provide service members’ medical records to the VA in an electronic format.

In 2014, our Association will continue to fight for programs and services that support service members and their families.

What issues are important for you and your military family? Let us know – and let your Members of Congress know too!
Click here to find contact information for your Representative or Senator.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director