Salute to Service: Vets stay active through Wounded Warrior Project

By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

As part of the NFL's Salute to Service campaign, the league is donating $100 for every point scored to three military-related non-profit organizations. During the campaign, NFL Evolution will focus on each of those three groups that will benefit.

Today, NFL Evolution looks at the Wounded Warrior Project, which began in 2003. Earlier this week director of strategic partnerships Brea Kratzert talked about the origin of the WWP, its work with the NFL and its future.

What is the mission of the Wounded Warrior Project?

To honor and empower wounded warriors. Although that may seem very simple in word, it's very complex in deed. There's a lot of times when we're honoring some warriors and their family members and there's a very strong focus on empowerment.

In what ways does the Project meet its mission?

We have four pillars in which our 20 programs and services fall under. That's mind, body, economic empowerment and engagement. Within those four pillars we have 20 programs that take a holistic approach to healing process. For instance, under the economic empowerment, we have a "Warriors to Work" program that takes on career matches. Under our body pillar, we have a physical health and wellness program, which the NFL has been very involved in. It helps them get back on track in their eating healthy, exercising and getting back on their stride.

How many veterans does the WWP currently help?

Right now we have close to 60,000 in what we refer to as our alumni database. But through the policy and legislation that we've helped to pass, I'm sure that we've helped hundreds of thousands of warriors and their family members.

How was the Wounded Warriors Project created?

It was created in 2003. A group of veterans that were injured themselves saw men and women coming home that signed up or were enlisted. After 9/11 happened, they saw them coming home and identified with them immediately. They knew that they needed just comfort items -- items that you and I would probably take for granted on a daily basis. They started stuffing backpacks. They begged their way into hospitals where for veterans to deliver these backpacks. A day later they were getting calls to please deliver more backpacks. They also had the foresight to bring in their spouses because, as you can imagine, it's not just the life of the warrior that changes, but the life of the spouse or the caregiver that changes as well. The backpack program is still around through our relationship with Under Armour, which underwrites that program.

Was there a specific breakthrough for the project that helped it become a resource for the vets?

The breakthrough has come each and every year because as we continue to work with more partners then we are able to serve more warriors. We have more individuals who become more education about our programs and services.

The NFL has been involved in the Project. How has that helped?

It's really a team effort. We do have individual players that support us, but the NFL as a whole has been very gracious with the Wounded Warrior Project. Then individual teams seem to take it above and beyond with their warriors and their family members.

What does it mean for the Project to be one of the beneficiaries of the NFL's donations through the Salute to Service campaign?

We feel very fortunate that the NFL has chosen the Wounded Warrior Project to be one of its beneficiaries. This has really helped us to get the name out there. We have a great relationship. We typically help with the league's physical health and wellness expos, during which we bring in warriors and their family members to learn everything from eating healthy to proper exercises and taking that information home with them. We have had these expos at different NFL locations, whether it's in a city or an NFL training facility. I think it really helps to be a partner with the NFL.

We're extremely grateful for the support of the NFL. Every time we have a request from an alumni manager or someone in one of our program offices asks help from a particular team, the (teams) are extremely gracious to immediately tell us who to contact and help facilitate that request. It makes for a great experience for the warriors. Nothing can beat going to an (NFL) game, but when getting warriors who think they are the only one out there going through what they are, then going to a game and being around other warriors helps create the camaraderie. It's much more than just going to a football game.

How will the NFL donation help the WWP?

Not only are they helping to support our project, but specifically they are helping us to put on these physical health and welfare expos. We do this in partnership with our staff members and, of course, we have help from some key teams. For instance, the Rams have helped us by holding an expo at their facility. ... The Rams organization helped these guys out for four days, training at their weight room, working with their dieticians and making sure breakfast, lunch and dinner was taken care of. It was just a really great opportunity and I don't think that door would have been open without the NFL and the way (coach) Jeff Fisher and that whole organization support the Wounded Warrior Project.

What is the future of the WWP. Where will it be five years from now?

We're looking for ways to integrate our programs. We work with our alumni. We send out a yearly survey and we're working on specific wellness programs. And we've also opened a long-term (dependent) program for those warriors. We want to make sure their life is the same when their caregiver or spouse is no longer able to take care of them. We're going to continue to grow. Our goal by 2017 is to help over 100,000 warriors and their families with direct programs and services. We're looking to add approximately 30 offices. And we're looking to expand our programs to meet the needs of this generation of warriors.

How can veterans contact the Wounded Warriors Project?

If any (military) alumni needs to contact us, they can do so at our website. And, of course, if anyone is interested in further supporting the project, they can reach out to our website as well.

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