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Improving Quality of Life for Wounded Warriors and Their Families

A Signature Program Grant from Kessler Foundation funds the Army Wounded Warrior Career Demonstration Project, a national project of the National Organization on Disability.

November 12, 2009

Signature Program Grants support large initiatives that increase opportunities for citizens with disabilities to obtain competitive employment. A Signature Program Grant from Kessler Foundation funds the Army Wounded Warrior Career Demonstration Project, a national project of the National Organization on Disability.

Soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face enormous challenges to re-entering society. Achieving satisfactory quality of life often depends on finding a job or training for a new career, but disability is a barrier for many veterans. Many who have served are dealing with severe physical disabilities as a result of blast injuries, burns, amputations, and spinal injuries. More than 140 of these wounded veterans are receiving career guidance and job search assistance through the Army Wounded Warrior Career Project, according to program director Bazil Whiting.

For these former soldiers, achieving self sufficiency means overcoming lots of other issues, emphasized Robert Alvarez, one of the four career specialists providing these much-needed services. Their paths to recovery are often hindered by posttraumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, complications that were underestimated at first, as well as family, financial and legal issues. The pilot project employs career specialists at sites in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina, where veterans and family members can access a full range of services including career planning, educational advancement, vocational counseling, resume preparation, and placement in paid and volunteer positions.

Alvarez, a Marine veteran with a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, works with a group of 40 veterans in Colorado providing guidance and support for veterans who are motivated to re-enter the workforce. Being a career specialist often means helping veterans handle their marital problems, custody issues, substance abuse, medical conditions and depression. Although his focus is employment, Alvarez says his real role is "helping people with their lives." Family members of veterans often need help finding work, too, which means that his actual caseload is really much larger. Despite the complexities of his job, Alvarez, a former US Marine, is optimistic. He believes that people are resilient, especially these recently disabled veterans, many of whom have served their country with distinction. The successes of the wounded warriors keep him going... "I'd work 100 hours a week if I could," he said.

"Kessler Foundation recognizes that in these economic times, vocational support is critical for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan," Whiting said. The impact of the Foundation's funding of the Army Wounded Warrior Career Project is evident. Veterans with severe disabilities are studying engineering, attending college and graduate school, working in nursing and education, and learning how to manage their own small businesses. "Several work in federal and state positions," noted Whiting, "while others are training for better-paying jobs or planning for more satisfying careers." Most importantly, the holistic approach of the program's career specialists is improving the quality of life for wounded warriors and their families.