As the wife of a war correspondent, my biggest fears involved only death. Disability never even entered my mind, as naive as that may sound. I certainly hadn’t imagined living with someone who had survived a bullet to the head, was blinded, brain injured, or transformed by trauma. One phone call in 2006 changed all of that. When my husband, ABC World News Tonight anchor Bob Woodruff, was injured by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq, we joined thousands of families who belong to a club of which no one wants to be a member. That same year, we founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation to assist post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families. To date we have invested more than $20 million in solutions that focus on rehabilitation and recovery, education, and quality of life. As we currently plan our summer fundraising events that will take place in the DC area, we ask each American to consider how he or she might help.
For civilians, it can be confusing to know how to contribute and make a difference. There are more than 40,000 nonprofits assisting veterans, and they are not all created equal. We take pride in navigating that landscape—in finding, funding, shaping, and investing in those gold standard programs that are stretching dollars to the right places and making the most impact.
Immediately following Bob’s injury, during our five week stay on Bethesda Naval Hospital’s traumatic brain injury ward, we met remarkable military families waiting for loved ones to emerge from a coma or comforting them as they grappled with injury and extreme pain. We family members were all connected by the common language of caregiver: fear, grief, uncertainty, pure hope, and uttered prayer.
We witnessed young men and women quietly cycling through the military hospitals in shocking numbers, while the rest of us—the beneficiaries of their service—were going about our civilian lives. It was a point in the war where no one had yet begun to talk openly about the hidden injuries from head wounds or multiple concussions from roadside bombs. It would take even more time for our nation to add to that list post-traumatic and combat stress, depression, suicide, broken marriages and relationships—and the other insidious ways that the cost of war can change lives.
I was privileged to encounter dedicated and incredible families, many of whom were forced to make difficult choices between keeping a job and flying to the bedside to support their family member. Why weren’t we hearing these stories in the outside world, I thought? What happened to these families after they left acute care and were transferred to the long stages of rehabilitation?
Our story ends well for many reasons, not the least of which is just a flat-out miracle. We had a strong marriage and four children who motivated Bob every step of his recovery. We have remarkable families and a community of dedicated friends. We called upon our faith and a healthy sense of humor, and we slowly moved from basic survival to learning how to thrive again. But the service members we would meet were never far from our minds. Through our foundation, we resolved to shine a spotlight on those who had volunteered to serve and had come home injured. They deserved every opportunity to recover and thrive back on the home front.
Due to advancements in battlefield medicine, transportation, and body armor, 90 percent of our service members are surviving their combat injuries—some of which would have been fatal in previous wars. We are welcoming home a nation of wounded not only with physical injuries but also silent injuries—one in five service members suffers from major depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Even after our veterans return to the love and support of their families and towns, many will struggle. Physical and hidden injuries are challenging enough on their own. Sometimes these issues can lead to a cascade of other troubles—unemployment, substance abuse, and even suicide. These families face exceptional challenges that require innovative solutions in their communities, whether it’s counseling, job retraining, or simply ways to find new meaning and purpose as they start their life after injury.
Bob and I are honored to have used our own story to illuminate this cause. It’s an issue that touches every American, no matter your politics. Fellow citizens volunteered to go when their country asked. And when they come home in need of help, it’s our duty to shoulder that weight.
This July Fourth, amid the barbecues and the parades, let’s make sure that appreciation lasts beyond the holiday weekend. Let us look for ways to put our words into action and do more than just wave flags and sparklers on the sidelines.