Volunteers Add Healing Touch at USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va.

FORT BELVOIR, Va.-The USO Warrior and Family Center here serves a unique community, and couldn’t operate without a cadre of trained volunteers. The center caters to wounded, ill and injured troops and their caregivers and families recovering from both visible and invisible wounds of war.

“Our volunteers here are amazing,” said Pam Horton, Director of USO Warrior and Family Centers. “There is not a chance we could have done a tenth of what we’ve done if they hadn’t been here.”

The USO is proud to celebrate National Volunteer Week. Our 29,000-plus volunteers donate roughly 1.5 million hours of service each year. They’re the reason the service members and their families who walk through our doors more than 8 million times each year feel welcome.

A New Center For Our Warriors

The Sports Lounge in the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir is almost ready for our wounded troops and their caregivers and families to enjoy.

The Sports Lounge in the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir is almost ready for our wounded troops and their caregivers and families to enjoy.

More than 40,000 troops have been visibly wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 300,000 troops suffer from invisible wounds, like post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. In addition, the Pentagon said the military reached a record high of 349 suicides in 2012, highlighting the need for increased mental and emotional care for America’s returning troops. While these numbers are upsetting, we have to face the fact that returning troops need us now more than ever. It is a particularly important time for recovering troops to have a stress-free and supportive environment as they heal and reintegrate into civilian life.

Since 1941, the USO has been there for our troops. As we continue to adapt to meet the needs of our military and their loved ones, we are thrilled to open the doors to a new center – designed especially for our recovering troops, their families and caregivers – in just a few days.

Located steps away from the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., will offer activities for recovering troops, their families and caregivers that will help them relax, have fun and reintegrate into society. Specifically, the programs and classes offered will align with the USO’s Continuum of Care. The center will have programmatic offerings in the areas of physical health and recreation, family strengthening, behavioral health, employment, education and community reintegration. Inside the center, guests will have access to more than 20 areas, including a movie theater, respite suite, sports lounge, business center, music room and a healing garden outdoors.

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The Game Room will be a place for recovering troops to relax and enjoy the latest games with state-of-the-art video game consoles and screens.


During the difficult journey toward recovery, this center will be a place for support, relaxation, a peaceful environment for families to come together and an opportunity to prepare for a fulfilling and happy life ahead. Men and women dealing with the aftermath of deployment can learn how to transition into a new and different role, find hope and embrace the change. Like all USO centers, the mission remains the same – to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.

A second USO Warrior and Family Center is currently being constructed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and is scheduled for completion in early 2014. The Warrior and Family Centers at Fort Belvoir and in Bethesda are possible because of the USO’s Operation Enduring Care campaign and our generous volunteers. We could not do this without you! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

What’s in a Name?

NATHANS PIC

James Nathaniel Richards

A name is something that you get from your Mom and Dad.

It is something you hear when your teacher calls on you. You hear it when your brothers or sister want help with a chore or they want you to do something. You definitely hear it when you did something that was not good.

“James Nathaniel Richards!!”

You don’t realize how important it is till you miss hearing someone call it. My Dad has been deployed for almost a month. I would really like to hear him.

My sister, Bella, and I take turns getting the mail.

You are thinking, “no big deal,” but we live almost a mile from our mailbox. It is up and down a big hill, so when I went to the mail box and opened it up I was really excited.

There it was: My name!

It was on a big package letter. My excitement went up to Jupiter. Bella and I opened it up.

Wow, it was a book! I love to read. It was a birthday book which was good because it was Bella’s birthday and my Mom’s. The best part was inside the package was a disk with my Dad reading the book. Well, actually a couple of books.

He said my name!!

It sounded really good. You don’t know how important your name is till someone you miss says it! He read the stories before he left and United Through Reading® sent them to us. I think I am going to ask Ms. Diane [from the USO] if I can read my Dad some stories. It is a program they have for parents and kids so you can stay n touch and hear your name!

You can get the info at your USO or online.  I can’t believe we didn’t do this all the other times he was on deployment. Maybe I can read him the newspaper with all the Super Bowl news, or a book.

My mom got me the one about the boy whose Dad died in 9/11, where he left his kid a message. Or maybe I could read him an easy book so Bella could help. I don’t think it will matter what I read to him. I think that he probably be happy to hear me say his name.

So what is in a name? I guess it depends on who says it and how much you hear them say it.

So go say my name Dad!

Story written by Nate-the-Great—A Military Brat
a 9-year-old blogger whose father is in the Navy.  Follow, like and share Nate’s blog about life as a military brat by navigating to http://natethegreatamilitarybrat.wordpress.com. United Through Reading’s Military Program can be found at more than 130 Command locations worldwide and more than 70 USO host locations. — Edited by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer.

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Nine-year-old USO volunteer Nathan Richards gets an autograph from Joe Townsend, a British Royal Marine after a track and field medal ceremony where Townsend took Gold in the 100m. Richards' mother, Lorraine, is one of dozens of volunteers from USO San Diego who supported the 2012 Marine Corps Trials in February.

Supporting Our Wounded Troops

In April 2003, the USO opened a center embedded in the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The CASF serves as a staging area for wounded, ill and injured troops who are preparing for medevac transport back to the United States for further treatment and rehabilitation and is sometimes the first place these service members are reunited with family.  On average, more than 200 wounded, ill or injured troops come through the doors of the USO center at CASF Ramstein each month and every week the volunteers and staff host 2-3 breakfasts and dinners for base personnel.These meals are served prior to the 9.5-hour flight on a C-17 bound for Walter Reed Military Medical Center back in the U.S. Each week, patients and medical care providers alike join together for a wonderful meal made possible by the fantastic USO staff and volunteers at CASF Ramstein.After enjoying a delicious meal, volunteers and staff hand out pillows and quilts to the servicemen and women to help make their flight home much more comfortable. Thanks to the incredible work at CASF Ramstein, hundreds of our troops have their spirits lifted when they need it most. Thank you for all that you continue to do! – Joseph P. Scannell, USO New Media Intern

Wounded Warriors Report Improvements in Care Continuity

At the second annual USO Wounded Warrior and Family Caretakes Conference in Fayetteville, N.C., I had the rare opportunity to listen to the concerns of some of America’s most severely wounded troops, their families, and their caregivers.

A common concern quickly bubbled to the surface: continuity of care.

“The military case managers are great and did a lot for us in the beginning,” said Luana Schneider, caretaker of her severely wounded son, Army Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson. “But they were handling multiple cases and didn’t have the nationwide reach and tape-cutting abilities we needed for continued, specialized care when we got back home.

“The real savior for us has been our federal recovery coordinator,” added Schneider. “It’s a fairly young program with limited resources, but it’s become critical to us to have someone who knows Scott and his medical history. Without someone to coordinate and do some of the administrative legwork for us, we would be lost out there in Kansas where there are no VA surgeons specializing in burn treatment.”

The Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP) is a VA program that provides support for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of those wounded warriors dealing with what the VA considers “catastrophic” injuries, such as severe burns, amputations, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.

Each coordinator develops an individual recovery plan with input from the multidisciplinary heath care team, the veteran, and their family or caregiver. They track the care, management and transition of recovering veterans all the way through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the civilian world.

Stephenson didn’t have a “designated red-tape cutter” when he get out of the hospital in 2007, but according to his mom, it was his specialized needs that helped launch the program just one year later. His coordinator has since been working behind the scenes to get him the highest level of care by the top surgeons in the field of burn care and management.

“I truly believe I’ve received the best care possible with the technology available at the time,” said Stephenson.

“I was actually pretty impressed when I researched and visited the top civilian burn surgeon out in California to see what he could do about getting me a prosthesis,” said Stephenson. “When I mentioned my surgeon was Dr. [Steven E.] Wolf, he looked at me with wide eyes and said, ‘Son, burn surgeons don’t come any better than Dr. Wolf.’ That made me feel like I was really being cared for by the best, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Health care professionals like Dr. Wolf continue to learn from our combat wounded to improve the treatment of unique combat burn injuries, and the VA continues to improve programs like FRCP to give veterans the continuity in care expected from the most medically advanced country on Earth.

In addition to burn care, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury also continues to develop best practices for case management in its own field.

In fact, on Thursday, Sept. 22, DCoE will hold a public webinar on that very subject. The session is free and open to the public. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Mom Drops Everything to Care for Wounded Son

Finding out your child has been severely wounded in combat is something no mother can prepare for. In fact, the news alone can be just as traumatic to the parent as the actual injury was to her son or daughter.

Luana Schneider, guest speaker at the second annual USO Wounded Warrior and Family Caregivers Conference this week, is all too familiar.

Just two days after Thanksgiving in 2006, she learned that her son, Army Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson, had been “hit” by an improvised explosive device in Iraq.

She was told that he was severely wounded and badly burned. She was also told her son was going to die.

Two days later her son was transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Tex. She was at her home in Kansas when she got a call from the hospital.

“He’s not responding,” a male nurse said desperately over the phone. “You need to get here now.”

“What do you mean he’s not responding?” Schneider frantically replied. “What are you calling him?”

“Robert. That’s what his medical records say,” the nurse said.

“He doesn’t go by Robert,” she said. “Call him Scott. Call him Scotty. Call him Bubby Bubble-Butt! That was his nickname as a kid. she said, sobbing.

“For God’s sake, don’t call him Robert, nobody calls him that,” the panicked mom added.

“Hold on,” the nurse said as he shouted in the background. “Scotty! Wake up! Scotty! Wake up, open your eyes and show me you’re alive!”

Scotty opened his eyes.

“He’s responding,” said the nurse. “You need to get here now.”

She was on the next flight – crying the whole way.

She realized in the air that only she could have known how to get Scott’s attention in that critical second. Only she could give Scott the attention he needed to stay alive.

“Reality sucks,” Schneider said, reflecting on the moment she received that horrific phone call. “Even though I was waiting for that sort of call, I wasn’t ready for it. Nobody is.”

When she arrived at the medical center, she didn’t even recognize her own son.
“He was in pieces. Swollen. Bloody. Burned,” she said. “I thought it was going to be bad but it was way worse.”

The reality of the situation was beginning to settle in. Her son would need an extraordinary amount of care for a long, long time. She would need to drop everything to do anything he needed.

“They told me when I got to the hospital that this would make me or break me,” Schneider said. “And you have to be honest with yourself and admit it – bow out – if you can’t handle it. Because the last thing you want to do is make your loved one suffer because you can’t handle it.

“It’s not about you,” she added. “It’s about your child, your husband, your sister or your brother.”

Her son would undergo kidney bypass, several major operations to remove shrapnel, and skin grafts to repair the burns that covered more than 60 percent of his body. Staff Sgt. Stephenson would eventually have his charred left leg amputated without the hope of a prosthetic, as his burned skin was “just too fragile.”

“When you have an adult child that you have to lift, you have to carry, you have to hold, have to bathe … the things that you have to do change you. I’ve had to scrub my child ‘till he bleeds,” Stephenson’s mother and caregiver said. “That creates this intimacy that normal people cannot comprehend. An intimacy that, while amazing how it bonds us today, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.”

Adjusting to a “new normal” has taken time for Scott and his mom, but it’s a certain balance, a certain patience, and a certain resiliency of a strong caregiver like Luana that has made it possible for him to recover.

His unique injuries required the blazing of new paths. With no road map, an empathetic caregiver like Luana became absolutely essential for Scott’s survival.

“She’s a warrior,” Staff Sgt. Stephenson said of his mother. “She didn’t visit me in the hospital, she lived there. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”

It has taken years to find “new normal,” but she and Scott declared there is indeed hope for those just getting started down the road to recovery.

“It’s not something you would ever see coming, but it’s something you accept fully or not at all,” Schneider said. “At this point in my life I was looking forward to traveling with my husband. I thought, ‘We raised six, they are out of the house, we’re good, and we’re on our way!’

“It didn’t turn out that way,” the mother said, shaking her head. “It didn’t turn out that way.” – By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson

Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson