About 41% (1.8 million) of post-9/11 veterans have a disability rating with the VA, according to a 2019 survey by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Every day, more than 45 of those warriors register with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) for programs and services to help them cope with visible and invisible injuries. Still, many injured veterans suffer in silence due to the stigmas associated with reaching out for help. They self-medicate, self-isolate and their mental and physical wellness plummet to desperate levels.
COVID-19 has taken a firm grip on the wellness of these warriors -- many of whom are at higher risk for exposure due to their injuries and illnesses. Now, our nation's heroes are facing different recovery challenges -- regressions -- due to reinforced isolation stemming from self-quarantine and exposure anxiety once back to in-person engagements.
When a warrior’s environment or routine changes, it’s easy to fall into new behaviors -- whether positive or negative. With gyms closing their doors, workout support groups and classes came to a halt. It would be easy to become stationary at home without these resources. We must relearn how to maintain positive momentum. For this reason, WWP quickly transitioned programs from face-to-face to virtual delivery of their programs and services to reach warriors and their families in the comfort of their own homes.
WWP’s virtual opportunities expanded to include yoga and meditation classes, cooking workshops and at-home fitness workouts modified to use common household items. WWP even created a virtual cycling community, where nearly 700 warriors interact online through coffee socials, virtual riding challenges, cycling maintenance tutorials and more. A popular cycling app that helps warriors compete and engage with each other tracks their activities.
Warriors across the nation credit the virtual cycling community with rekindling a sense of purpose during the COVID-19 quarantine. Carol Baille, a warrior who was once very active with WWP’s cycling program Soldier Ride, had a setback after a debilitating foot surgery last spring. Once healthy enough to start her post-surgery rehabilitation, our nation was dealing with the pandemic and Carol was told to stay home and quarantine for safety.
“These virtual offerings have changed my life in this quarantine.” Carol shared. “The virtual movement challenges helped me learn my new physical limits and got me moving for the first time in a while. I have something to look forward to and it truly brightens my day.”
Although Carol was still limited in her physical activity, the virtual community of wounded warriors kept her motivated and walking through the pandemic. That level of encouragement helped her stay strong during her recovery and log more than 100 miles in six weeks of walking. It’s not only inspiring -- it’s a testimonial of just what these virtual connections can do. Just recently, Carol finally “clipped in'' to her road bike for the first time post-op as those warriors who witnessed her journey over the past couple of months cheered her on.
One of those warriors is Claude Boushey, an Army veteran who shattered and compressed his vertebrae and compromised 80% of his spinal canal after a sudden helicopter crash in Iraq. After enduring four surgeries and eight months of grueling rehab, Claude proved doctors wrong by walking again. He even received approval to fly again, deploying to Iraq for a second time. And although Claude’s 25-year service to the country eventually concluded, he continues to engage with other veterans through the virtual cycling community.
“Warrior-to-warrior support is a special type of therapy,” Claude said. “It makes sense that the Wounded Warrior Project has introduced a virtual opportunity;ty that keeps veterans engaged in their continued recovery and with each other. During this quarantine, it’s more important than ever for warriors to receive the support needed so they don’t regress in their successes.”
Carol and Claude are two examples of warriors saving other warriors’ lives in these challenging times as they inspire each other -- and all of us -- to keep up the positive momentum.