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Helping the Severely Wounded Learn How to Dream Again

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following was released today by John Driscoll, Vice President of the National Coalition For Homeless Veterans:

"How do you change your baby's diaper if you have a stump or a hook, instead of a hand?"

With the nation at war, that kind of question is not addressed by the legion of men and women who deliver severely wounded soldiers from the battlefield to stateside medical facilities that ensure their survival. More than 60,000 U.S. troops who have been wounded during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) have made that journey in the last four years.

The signature wounds of these conflicts are different from the nation's previous wars. The enemy's weapons of choice - improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - oftentimes don't kill their victims. They main, mutilate and inflict serious internal trauma on a scale unlike anything the nation's military and veteran medical systems have encountered since the Vietnam War.

The casualties themselves, coping with pain and the terror of not knowing how serious or disabling their injuries are, will have to work through physical and emotional wounds that will tear at them for years. For some, the battle to regain a positive self image and to believe their future can be as bright as it once seemed will last the rest of their lives.

The question about how to change a baby's diaper with a hook may seem trivial compared to the weight of multiple reconstruction surgeries, stump revisions and prosthesis fittings. But at some point, the restoration of these veterans' sense of self esteem and promise will depend on their belief that they can adapt and succeed in a world filled with challenges.

A bold new initiative taking shape in New England is designed to offer seriously wounded veterans the opportunity to rediscover their potential and learn to dream again - about their careers, their families and their ability to build for the future on their terms.

The Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center in Gardner, MA, is in Phase I of construction. When it is completed, the facility will offer a temporary home for up to 40 wounded veterans - and their families - who are learning to turn extreme adversity into opportunity. And they won't have to go it alone.

"These veterans are going to need a lot of support, everything from learning how to overcome their disabilities to physical and occupational therapies. And just as important, we'll be helping them rebuild their lives from the inside out. There is no prosthesis for the human spirit," said the project's founder, Leslie Lightfoot, CEO of Veteran Homestead, Inc., in nearby Fitchburg. "But their families need to be involved as well, and they'll need a lot of support, too. That's one of the things that will make this center unique and ensure its success."

Lightfoot created the nation's first hospice program for homeless veterans, the first agricultural therapeutic residence program for veterans with mental illness, the first homeless veteran residence in Puerto Rico, and several veteran assistance programs in Massachusetts.

The Center will be located on 10 scenic acres of land donated by Mount Wachusett Community College, a partnership that promises much more than property.

The college will provide physical therapy, occupational therapy and lifeskills training interns for veteran clients, along with educational opportunities to help them prepare for and launch their careers. Center clients will have access to amenities that will facilitate recreational skills development and promote leisure activities that can be shared with family members.

Directly across the street from the Center, Henry Heywood Hospital will welcome resident veterans into its physical, occupational and speech therapy departments. General medical services, including emergency room treatment, will be available to program participants. Clients will have unlimited access to mental health professionals to help them understand and better control the emotional and mental impacts of their wounds.

Veteran clients will be housed in separate cottages located on the Center grounds. The two-bedroom residences will allow family members to stay with clients and enable them to receive therapy as a family. The "green" project will utilize geothermal technology and photovoltaic cells, which will protect the environment while reducing energy costs.

Though still in its embryonic stage, the center's heartbeat is growing stronger. Planners hope the center will be receiving its first applications by early 2009. The support and rehabilitation programs are designed for veterans who have experienced amputations, severe burns, traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. Clients will be referred to the center by VA medical centers, Veteran Readjustment Counseling Centers (Vet Centers), other medical service providers and mental health agencies. But veterans in need, and family members, will be able to send applications for admission directly to the center.

"Some wounded veterans will need medical care and rehabilitation services for a long time," Lightfoot said. "We're hoping this project becomes a blueprint for successful long-term therapy so others will be able to develop similar facilities in other parts of the country."

The greatest need now is additional funds to ensure that the center opens on schedule. Lightfoot is hoping the business sector, the faith community, civic organizations and individual donations will turn this critical vision into reality. "This is a tremendous opportunity for the community at large to show its support for America's veterans," she said. "Restoring hope for those who have been wounded in service to the country is the best way to honor them."

Donations to support development of the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center can be mailed to: Veteran Homestead, Inc., 69 High Street, Fitchburg, MA 01420; or arranged by calling 978-353-0234.

For more information about the Center, go to:

SOURCE National Coalition For Homeless Veterans
Copyright©2008 PR Newswire.
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