Do you have the same needs today as you did when you were 18? Most people’s needs change as they mature, including veterans. Wounded Warrior Project’s (WWP) Annual Warrior Survey tracks the evolving needs of veterans so WWP can better serve warriors regarding their mental, physical, and financial health.
Take Army veteran Bill Hansen, for example. Big Sarge, as he’s known to friends, enlisted at 18 and served in Iraq during Desert Storm and again during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like 75% of WWP warriors, he manages post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time in service.
Now in his mid-50s, Bill has been through several stages of physical and mental healing. He first reached out for help through fitness activities organized by WWP.
“I started my healing journey by doing fitness,” Bill said. “Wounded Warrior Project gave me the understanding and the courage to go and get help.”
Bill was managing chronic pain, PTSD, and was grieving the loss of his first wife, and mother to his four daughters, who died from cancer.
While physical wellness was important in helping him cope with persistent back pain and wean himself off medications, the inner pain was interfering with his relationships with his daughters.
“Wounded Warrior Project helped get me to the point where I could understand my inner conflicts and reach out for help,” Bill said. “At first, my mind was not there yet, but seeing other warriors get help in working through their own grief and struggles was eye-opening.”
Bill was able to see how military life had changed him emotionally.
“Year over year, we see that mental health challenges top the list of current issues being faced by the warriors we serve at Wounded Warrior Project,” said Melanie Mousseau, vice president of program operations and partnerships at WWP. “In fact, we see that mental health issues are more than twice as common as physical ones among Wounded Warrior Project warriors in the Annual Warrior Survey.”
The WWP Annual Warrior Survey, first conducted in 2010, has evolved – along with the warriors it serves. WWP uses the survey findings to inform decisions and identify new ways to better serve warriors through programs, partnerships, and advocacy efforts.
This year, rather than asking the full WWP warrior population to participate (as in previous years), WWP selected a representative sample. Over the next several years, the survey will follow those warriors and see how their needs – like Bill’s – have changed over time.
Bill has continued to use the mind-body connection, as well as mental health programs available through WWP, to continue growing and progressing in his healing journey.
“I feel more whole, and was able to open up, share my experiences with others, and eventually feel well enough to be open to a new relationship.”
Bill started dating Kim – his current wife – after a period of grieving. He resigned himself to being a single dad, was enjoying a new phase as a grandfather, and was comfortable with his journey.
“Wounded Warrior Project helped open a door and empowered me to step through, moving forward,” Bill reflected.
“I realized, ‘here’s a chance,’ and I was ready to take that chance.”
With his four daughters grown and starting their own lives, Bill felt good about rebuilding his life.
Bill’s second date with Kim was to a VFW event where he spoke about his military and veteran journey. She supported his healing journey and heard about his exposure to burn pits during Iraq deployments, which put Bill at risk for lung problems and (they thought) infertility issues. According to the Annual Warrior Survey, more than 7 in 10 warriors report exposure to burn pits during their time in service.
Bill was ready for the next step. “I had great help getting here – I just had to be ready and willing to step into what God had planned for me.”
Bill and Kim were married during the pandemic in a beautiful wedding over Zoom, with guests joining from afar via technology. They bought a house in Texas, close to a lake with kayak access, and near one of his daughters, who lives in Dallas.
A year later, a new baby has brought joy to a life that Bill could have only dreamt about a few years ago.
“So, I have my four daughters and a granddaughter, Kim’s two daughters, and now Bill Jr., who we call Baby Sarge,” he said.
Bill’s experiences are unique. But they also reflect the ups and down many veterans experience while building new lives. How the world responds to the changing needs of wounded warriors makes a difference in their quality of life. That’s why WWP highlights the evolving needs of veterans through its Annual Warrior Survey.
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.