Surrounding Warriors with Support During Holiday Season and Throughout the Year
The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone. We’ve all been there – doing our best to juggle children’s expectations, family plans, and year-end bills, all while keeping our own physical and mental health in balance.
For veterans, the demands of the holidays can aggravate stress, and sometimes heighten feelings of alienation and loneliness. In a survey of the injured warriors Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) serves, 62% of them reported feelings of loneliness. Warriors who have been out of the military service longer, have higher overall loneliness scores.
The veterans and civilians who work together at WWP to support injured warriors know that a little recognition over the holidays can go a long way. From Friendsgiving to hand-written cards to holiday connection events for the whole family, WWP staff work to help warriors and military families stay in touch with each other and know they’re not alone.
“It’s great when veterans and their families come together and bond over the shared experiences that brought them together,” WWP outreach specialist and Marine veteran James Reed said. “It’s an honor to facilitate connection events and share my holidays with brothers and sisters.”
James hosted several WWP events in the Chicago area, including a Friendsgiving luncheon and a family evening at a Christmas-themed attraction.
In Houston, Texas, veterans and their families gathered for outdoor family photos. Others opted to meet virtually to create Christmas ornaments.
“The purpose of these events is to provide not only the space for warriors and families to engage with one another, but to know that there’s an entire organization of people who have their back,” WWP outreach specialist, and Army veteran, Tramashika DeWalt said.
Supporting Warriors’ Physical and Emotional Needs
Some of the gatherings have a dual purpose. They are meant to connect veterans to programs and services available to them at no cost and also provide a helping hand during the holidays in the form of meals or prepackaged holiday baskets.
“Earlier this year, I hit a bump on the road and required financial assistance,” Army veteran Amie McMillan said, “We were struggling horribly with the increased utility bills and rising cost of food. I was literally in tears when I picked up my phone to call for help.”
In addition to supporting Amie, a single mom of two, WWP invited her family to a pre-Thanksgiving event where they received a turkey and other food items to share at home.
“The other struggle in my life since being discharged from the Army has been trying to feel like part of a team again,” Amie added. “The events that Wounded Warrior Project organizes for veterans are truly a lifesaver. In 2022, WWP has gotten not only me out of the house, but my kids as well. We have been able to network with other veterans, share our stories, and just bond as veteran families.”
Long-Distance Mental Health Support is Always Near
WWP Talk is a program that offers individualized emotional support over the phone. Each participant is paired with a WWP Talk partner who will call them at the same day and time each week. They will typically talk for 20 minutes and work through setting goals and finding solutions that fit.
But the support doesn’t end when those immediate goals are reached. WWP Talk staff follow up with warriors and family support members in intervals. During the holidays, the team dedicates time for outreach in the form of hand-written cards and ornaments, which received positive responses from appreciative warriors.
“We realized how immediate this is because two or three of our specialists quickly received feedback,” said Sonal Patel, WWP Talk director. “Warriors commented on how the cards lifted their spirits. Some of the warriors wrote personal notes telling us they appreciate it.”
WWP Talk staff have been sending Christmas ornaments for years but decided to add cards after the pandemic.
“We’re a program that works with some of the more isolated warriors and family support members,” Sonal added. “The holidays are a time when you’re thinking about your family, you’re thinking about your life, you have more time for reflection, and sometimes that can also cause triggering memories.”
Supporting current warriors and even those who have “graduated” from WWP Talk is meaningful to both warriors and WWP staff members.
“It’s important to maintain that connection, especially during [the holidays], because we want them to know someone is thinking about them,” said Nelson Lorenzo, WWP Talk manager. “You’re not just being spoken to because you’re in the WWP Talk program. WWP staff are connected to you, and we care about you. This is a tangible way of showing it.”
Warriors write back and share personal milestones and family updates – like when children graduate from school or when they get a service dog they had been waiting for.
“It’s rewarding for me personally to see connections to things warriors do in the community and how successful they are now,” said Kira Lumpkins, WWP Talk operational specialist. “It’s great to hear from them. And it’s good for us as teammates, too, because we see that they know we care. And, in turn, they care enough to want to share those special moments with us.
WWP works to honor and empower veterans during the holidays and throughout the year. Through WWP’s emotional support programs, adventure-based workshops, clinical care, and connection opportunities, warriors and their families can build the resilience veterans need to overcome physical and mental health challenges.
Contact: Raquel Rivas – Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.426.9783
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.