Helping heroes stand up
Published: October 18, 2011
It’s nearly two o’clock, and a taxi is waiting to take Lee Woodruff across Washington D.C. to catch a train home. She’s just finished speaking about the needs of caregivers at a rehabilitation conference. Her experience as a caregiver began when her husband, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.
Lee says goodbye to the conference hosts, ready to see her family, especially since her two oldest children are headed home from college for a holiday weekend. Lee doesn’t take time away from her family lightly, but she and her husband feel a responsibility to injured veterans and their families.
“We know how very lucky we are,” she told her audience earlier. “That is why I’m standing here talking to you today … An incredible miracle was visited on our family, and we feel it is incumbent upon us to tell that story, to show the world this does not have to be a debilitating injury.”
Her husband’s traumatic brain injury, treatment and recovery brought the Woodruffs into contact with many military members struggling with life-changing injuries: burns, amputations and also traumatic brain injuries like Bob’s.
To bring attention to and meet the needs of wounded veterans, especially for those with hidden injuries like TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder, they created the Bob Woodruff Foundation in 2008.
Military families got involved at the start. Anne Marie Dougherty, a Marine wife, began volunteering for the Virginia-based foundation while stationed at Quantico Marine Base. Two PCS moves later, she’s still with the foundation as the director of marketing and communications.
For Anne Marie, her job is an extension of her military life.
“I feel like I’m supporting my husband and everyone else who volunteers to serve,” she said.
“People come back injured, and their lives are forever altered. They’re going to need a lifetime of care. It’s our responsibility, in my mind.”
Lee Woodruff said a majority of the foundation’s small staff, including the executive director, and volunteers are from the military community – a circumstance that happened naturally.
“It just makes sense,” she said, “and it gives us good and empathetic connections to those we’re serving. It vastly enriches the work we do. It allows us to really walk the walk. The people dealing with our grantees are people that really understand the life they live.”
Anne Marie explained that the foundation raises funds for and gives grants to existing local organizations that help injured veterans in various ways, relieving those organizations of some of their financial burden.
“We’re trying to invest in the full spectrum,” she said. “Anything from adaptive clothing for amputees, to initiatives to prevent homelessness and suicide and camps for children of deployed and injured service members.”
Anne Marie said the foundation has provided $9.5 million for programs that help wounded veterans and their families to recover and reintegrate in their own communities.
“It is of paramount importance that the communities are ready to welcome them with open arms,” she said.
Educating the public about the experiences and needs of injured service members and families is another of the foundation’s aims. Books written by the Woodruffs, their personal speaking events and the foundation's Web site remind.org, help to accomplish that, Anne Marie said.
The Bob Woodruff Foundation’s annual “Stand Up For Heroes” event is both a major fundraiser and a way to put veterans front and center. Now in its fifth year, the show occurs in partnership with the New York Comedy Festival.
Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart and others will donate their musical and comedic talents for the Nov. 9 show at New York’s Beacon Theatre.
Big names and corporate sponsors bring in the big money – last year’s event made $3 million – but the show is not all about the stars. Wounded warrior battalions from across the country are invited to nominate injured service members to attend. They are the ones who walk the red carpet and get the best seats in the house.
“The performers know that’s who they are there for,” Anne Marie said.
“In the beginning of the show we always play the service hymns and The National Anthem,” said Anne Marie.
“It is one of the most amazing things to watch as (veterans) stand up, getting out of a wheel chair or standing on prosthetic legs or supported by someone else. It is truly remarkable to witness,” she said. “A lot of people in New York don’t see this very often. It’s not a military town. It helps for them to see this in the flesh.”
While encouraging civilians to stand up for heroes, the Woodruffs and their organization are doing what they can to help heroes stand up on their own.