In past wars many of these men and women in combat would have bled to death or died from catastrophic wounds but because of today’s medical technology, rapid access to care, and high tech body armor wounded troops are surviving at a rate never seen before.
Severe injuries change lives of troops and their families in an instant. The physical damage is horrific -- and as if that wasn’t hard enough to bear, for some there’s an unforeseen and grim financial struggle that starts when soldiers are injured and families rush to be with them in hospitals far from home.
The long rehabilitation and recovery period is a financially tough time for severely wounded troops. They lose extra pay associated with combat and being away from home. And they can’t get their veterans benefits until they leave the military - a complicated process that can take months.
Kelly, Feldbusch, and Calhoun knew first-hand the battlefield they had to conquer on the home front.
Ryan Kelly needed a full 13 months at Walter Reed to master life with a prosthetic limb. While his family kept him in the dark about their financial stress, he saw the pressure his friends were under.
So from his hospital bedside, Ryan decided he had to solve the problem. He came up with an idea -- create a new insurance program for troops. Under his plan, a severely injured service member would immediately get $50,000 to cover all the emergency expenses.
Now, no longer bedridden, Ryan Kelly decided to make his idea a reality. He went to Washington and he took Jeremy Feldbush and Heath Calhoun with him.
So on a bright April morning, these three recently wounded veterans -– two who have lost limbs and one who is blind -– mounted an assault on Washington to fight for a bill to protect their comrades from the financial hardship that they faced during their own rehabilitation.
They proposed a bill that would put in place an insurance program that would immediately pay out $50,000 to each severely wounded soldier to cover emergency expenses. But these three, now spokesmen for the Wounded Warrior Project, need to drum up support on The Hill. After weeks of planning they came to knock on as many doors as possible.
The wounded warriors managed to book one high level meeting –- with democratic Senator Barak Obama of Illinois, a rising star in Washington.
Senator Obama took them very seriously. But what the group really needs is the backing of a powerful Republican senator with enough clout to push their bill through congress. And so, the unlikely group of lobbyists soldiered on. They traveled through Washington trying to schedule more meetings.
Their final meeting was with Senator Larry Craig, the powerful Republican Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. For the wounded warriors, this was the most important meeting of the trip. The stakes are high but they only get 15 minutes to make their pitch.
The Senator listened intently as Heath Calhoun explained how wounded soldiers are forced to hold out their hands to meet emergency expenses.
Eleven days after Ryan Kelly and his friends lobbied Capitol Hill to protect wounded soldiers from the financial hardship of coming home comes a breakthrough. The three young veterans joined Senator Larry Craig as he announced that he will take their bill to the senate floor.
Now called the Craig Amendment, the bill gives payments of up to $100,000 to cover emergency expenses of the severely wounded and it will be funded by service members -- at under $1 a month.
A week and a half before the announcement, the wounded warriors were struggling to get meetings. Just 11 days later, Jim Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, stepped forward with the following announcement:
"On behalf of The President I am pleased to join with Senator Craig to support this vital legislative initiative. This legislation may not be able to fully rebuild broken bodies but it can help rebuild broken dreams and broken families," Nicholson said.
On May 11, 2005, The President signed The Wounded Warriors’ bill into law. Though it will be many years before a monument to the veterans of the war in Iraq will be built, these young veterans have already left their mark on Washington. It’s called Senate Amendment 564 and it offers traumatic injury insurance to all active duty members of the armed forces.
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