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Maria Shriver

Helping Heroes And Their Families Thrive On The Homefront

In January 2006, journalist Bob Woodruff sustained a life-threatening traumatic brain injury while covering the war in Iraq. But despite the severity of his injury -- the father of four was kept in a medically induced coma for 36 days -- his recovery would prove miraculous; just 13 months later, he was back on the air for ABC News.

Throughout it all, wife Lee was by Bob’s side, and together, they shared their story in their best-selling book “In An Instant.” They also began the Bob Woodruff Foundation with the mission of ensuring that injured veterans and their families receive the support they need to thrive on the home front.

Here, Lee, an author, speaker, and contributor to “CBS This Morning,” shares what she’s been most surprised to learn in her work for the foundation and pays tribute to the many wives and mothers she’s met along the way.

What motivated you to get involved in this work?

When my husband, journalist Bob Woodruff, was injured in 2006 by a roadside bomb in Iraq, we had a chance to see first-hand what our service members and their family's go through after injury. While everyone in the military receives phenomenal acute care, it’s often after that, on the long road to recovery and then the transition to the home front, that there is a great disparity.

We wanted to take the spotlight that was shined on us with Bob's injury and turn it back on those who have served their country in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is an extreme honor to meet the people that we do and to engage in this kind of non-profit work.

Image: Specialist Ira Brownridge joins Bob Woodruff for the coin toss at Ford Field, on Nov. 22, 2010.
Specialist Ira Brownridge joins Bob Woodruff for the coin toss at Ford Field, on Nov. 22, 2010. Bob Woodruff Foundation

What have you been most surprised to learn?

Two things have surprised me: the willingness of the American public to want to help our military families, and the limits of public funding to properly take care of those who are injured, especially those with hidden injuries.

What do you most want people to know?

Although these wars have drawn down, there are still thousands of families who can use our assistance. Re-employment and re-training for jobs, along with help in the areas of suicide prevention and post-traumatic stress, are still huge, reverberating issues for service members and their families.

Who or what has made the greatest impression on you during your involvement?

There are too many individuals to choose just one, but collectively it’s been the mothers and wives I’ve met, the caregivers who had to take that phone call no one wants to take and whose lives are now forever changed.

What has been the hardest part of this work, or how has it most challenged you?

The Bob Woodruff Foundation is fortunate to have a fabulous executive director and team of dedicated people. But even without the pressure of running the day-to-day operations, starting a 501(c)(3) is an enormous commitment. When something has your name on it, you want it to be the gold standard. I devote more time to the cause than I might have imagined initially, especially with a job and kids still at home. But at the end of the day, the work and travel I do sustains me in ways that are hard to articulate.

For more information and inspiration visit MariaShriver.com