By Lee Woodruff
As the wife of a war correspondent, my biggest fears involved only death. Disability never even entered my mind, as naive as that may sound. I certainly hadn’t imagined living with someone who had survived a bullet to the head, was blinded, brain injured, or transformed by trauma.
One phone call in 2006 changed all of that. When my husband, ABC World News Tonight anchor Bob Woodruff, was injured by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq, we joined thousands of families who belong to a club of which no one wants to be a member.
That same year, we founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation to assist post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families. To date we have invested more than $33 million to create positive returns for impacted veterans and their families.
For civilians, it can be confusing to know how to contribute and make a difference. There are more than 46,000 nonprofits assisting veterans, and they are not all created equal. We take pride in navigating that landscape—in finding, funding, and shaping programs that are making the most impact.
Immediately following Bob’s injury, during our five-week stay on Bethesda Naval Hospital’s traumatic brain injury ward, we met remarkable military families waiting for loved ones to emerge from a coma or comforting them as they grappled with injury and extreme pain. The common language of caregiver connected us: fear, grief, uncertainty, pure hope, and uttered prayer.
We witnessed young men and women quietly cycling through the military hospitals, while the rest of us—the beneficiaries of their service—were going about our civilian lives. It was a point in the war where no one had yet begun to talk openly about the hidden wounds of war: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and depression—which we now know affect 1-in-5 service members who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
I was privileged to encounter dedicated and incredible families, many of whom were forced to make difficult choices between keeping a job and flying to the bedside to support their family member. Why weren’t we hearing these stories in the outside world, I thought? What happened to these families after they left acute care and were transferred to the long stages of rehabilitation?
Our story ends well for many reasons, not the least of which is just a flat-out miracle. We had a strong marriage and four children who motivated Bob every step of his recovery. We called upon our faith and a healthy sense of humor, and we slowly moved from basic survival to learning how to thrive again. But the service members we would meet were never far from our minds.
Bob and I are honored to have used our own story to illuminate this cause. It’s an issue that touches every American, no matter your politics. Fellow citizens volunteered to go when their country asked.
These heroes stood for us. That’s why I #Stand4Heroes.