April 2022 Vol. 7
A Safe Haven
Each request Navy Safe Harbor Foundation (NSHF) receives has a backstory; a Sailor who has encountered hardship and adversity. Those stories come in every color, shape, and size you can imagine. Some are stories that amplify how the small things in life can snowball and become overwhelming. Some are stories that make you shake your head because they couldn’t be made up. Some simply bring you to tears.
Although we don’t always know the details, it is these stories that provide the mission and the reason NSHF was founded. Recently we received a request when a medically retired Sailor found that their living arrangements were not safe or healthy. Newly enrolled as a full-time college student working toward a degree, the tenuous and destructive living situation resulted in mental fatigue, emotional instability, and an exacerbation of the underlying medical condition that led to retirement. Taking initiative, the Sailor found an available apartment and began the rental application process. Once approved, the initial financial obligation to secure the apartment added to the stress already impacting recovery. That was when NSHF was contacted and within 24 hours, we were able to cover the move-in expenses providing a fresh start in a safe home. With a secure and healthy living space, this Sailor is in a positive environment and has been given an opportunity for success and achievement.
Stories like these demonstrate that NSHF’s mission is a vital one. Support of our Sailors, men, and women who dedicate their lives to defend our country, is a promise we hold dear and are proud to keep. We can only do it in partnership with you, our donors. Together we provide a Safe Harbor for our Sailors.
Thoughts From our Board
CAPT Paul X. Rinn, USN, (Ret.)
I learned the incredible importance of medical and vocational reset programs after my wartime experience in Southeast Asia from 1972 to 1975. Returning home after the war I would frequently visit former fellow service members who had been wounded or otherwise disabled during the conflict and who were trying courageously to return to normal life and be part of society. It was extremely
difficult for some of them because of the prevailing misguided attitudes prevalent in the country at the time making it difficult for some veterans to assimilate and find jobs/careers. However, the Veterans Administration worked diligently to overcome the bias, instituted limited training programs, and did a competent job taking care of the physically and mentally wounded veterans but the struggle was significant.
Years later after my Frigate, USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG 58) was severely damaged in a mine strike in the Persian Gulf and 20 of my sailors required emergent or long term care I again saw the critical need for reset programs as several of my crew members required that assistance to return to active duty or to pursue new careers in society.
Again, the Veterans Administration provided a few reset programs but they were difficult to find or utilize. The results of that lack of assistance were in some ways the cause of some very sad situations that families are struggling with to this day. However, several success stories enabled sailors to recover and train in a new field or specialty to enter the job market successfully and pursue very prosperous and happy lives.
When Navy Safe Harbor got involved in this very important initiative several years ago, I was a strong supporter because I realized from my earlier experience what this program would mean to those service members injured on active duty who were trying to recover and resume their lives after being medically discharged from the service and starting all over again. The emphasis and tireless efforts of the program managers have been exemplary. I think one of the greatest validations of the program and certification of its success was witnessed during the 2022 Surface Navy Symposium. During the Executive Committee Board meeting, one of the newly elected members of the board wished to add a comment to the description of the Navy Safe Harbor program being delivered by RADM. Jeff Hathaway USCG (ret). As a former aviation maintenance man he stated, he had been injured on active duty and subsequently, following recovery, had been medically separated from the Navy. He had no marketable skills and was extremely concerned about his future. He discovered and enrolled in the Navy Wounded Warrior Program. The program trained and focused him and gave him new options and skills to achieve his goals. He clearly stated, “Navy Wounded Warrior saved my life and gave me a future”.
The purpose of the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation is to support and serve active duty servicemen and women as well as their families in times of crisis or injury. Navy Wounded Warrior Program is a key factor in meeting that commitment.
Navy Wounded Warrior Program
Navy Safe Harbor Foundation was formed to support the Navy’s Wounded Warrior program in 2009. We are honored to be the first call made when a Sailor or Coast Guardsman, their family, or their caregiver is in need. Recently, Lisa Sexauer, Director, and Dario Santana, NGO/Family Program Coordinator for the Navy Wounded Warrior Program (N95) in the Fleet and Family Readiness Division, for the Commander, Naval Installations Command (CNIC) located at the Washington Navy Yard, sat down with me to discuss the Navy Wounded Warrior program’s history and future.
NSHF: When did the Navy Wounded Warrior program start?
Lisa Sexauer: In 2008 Congress directed the stand up of a Warrior Recovery Program for all services thus Navy Safe Harbor, now Navy Wounded Warrior, was launched. Before that time, there were 2 non-medical case managers at Bethesda but that was all. Reservists were leveraged and trained to be case managers and placed at primary locations around major MTFs (military treatment facilities) like Bethesda, San Diego, San Antonio, and Palo Alto (VA Center – Veterans Affairs).
NSHF: Why was the program formed and how has it changed to meet the need of today’s Sailor and Coast Guardsman?
Lisa Sexauer: The issues in the barracks at Walter Reed initiated a Congressional investigation and shined a light on the unmet needs of wounded warriors. A committee was established and one of the outcomes was the directive to stand up a program. At that time, we were at war and the focus was clearly returning Servicemembers (SM), many of whom sustained significant combat-related injuries (visible and invisible). Today, we continue to come alongside Servicemembers in need of complex non-medical case management, but, illnesses, such as cancer and mental health conditions other than PTSD, are the most common conditions for those enrolled. In other words, the reasons for enrollment are non-combat-related injuries and illnesses, but the mission and tactics have not changed. Like anything else, the program continues to mature over time so things like ensuring a seamless transfer to the VA and/or establishing all available entitlements and benefits are in place before separation have improved and become more streamlined.
NSHF: Whom does the program serve? How does a Sailor or Coast Guardsman enroll in the program? How long can Sailors and Coast Guardsmen remain in the program?
Lisa Sexauer: The program serves Navy and Coast Guard wounded (combat and non-combat), ill, and injured SMs whose injuries are unrelated to misconduct. The program also serves their families and caregivers (oftentimes spouses). The SM can be referred from any source (even self) at which time an NMCM (Non-medical Care Manager) assesses the seriousness of the case and the needs of the SM and family. If they appear to meet criteria for seriously or very seriously wounded, ill, or injured (high likelihood they will be evaluated for continued service) a centralized enrollment committee will assess the case and decide eligibility thus enrollment. The Sailor or Coast Guardsman remain enrolled until final separation from the Navy or Coast Guard when the case is transitioned to inactive. However, they can reach back, at any time, for Navy-related pay and entitlement issues.
NSHF: What services could an enrollee expect to receive once active in the program?
Lisa Sexauer: Services may include but are not limited to:
Pay and Personnel Assistance
Invitational/Bedside Travel Orders
Lodging and Housing Adaptation
Assistance with Childcare
Adaptive Sports and Recreation
Smooth Transition to Department of Veterans Affairs
Education, Training, and Employment Resources and Referrals
Comprehensive Recovery Plan specific to SM’s/family’s needs and goals
Liaise those needs that cannot be provided by the federal government with non-government organizations, like NSHF, whose mission is to stand in the gap.
NSHF: What benefits do you feel this program provides to Sailors and Coast Guardsmen specifically and the Navy and Coast Guard in general?
Lisa Sexauer: First, “it keeps the promise.” That is care for those that have served this country to protect our freedoms. Second, the program lifts a tremendous burden off the shoulders of Sailors and Coast Guardsmen, as well as their families, particularly during life-changing events. Many planned to finish their military careers, and through no fault of their own, no longer have that opportunity. For some, it’s finding a new career path and for others, it is adapting to a new normal where employment may not be possible. The program prepares and assists them with navigating the waters before the final separation and for the reality after their service ends. Most importantly, the program is charged with ensuring a smooth transition to the VA, something that was lacking before the program stand-up. DOD (Department of Defense) and the VA are large, complicated organizations, often mired in many complicated processes. Our job is to make navigating those organizations as seamless as possible so the SM and their family can focus on the recovery process and what comes next.
NSHF: What does the enrollee population look like and how has that changed since the program’s inception?
Lisa Sexauer: A larger number of injuries have succumbed to illnesses as the more prevalent primary diagnoses. Today, cancer is the most prevalent diagnosis followed by mental health conditions other than PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), then PTSD follows in the 3rd spot. Most conditions are non-combat-related. However, the distribution of our enrollee population across the ranks mirrors that of the Navy and Coast Guard population with the largest proportion coming from the junior enlisted ranks.
NSHF: What does success look like for an enrollee?
Lisa Sexauer: I would define success as completing the individually tailored comprehensive recovery plan. The RSM (Recovering Service Member), under the advisement of their care team, sets their own goals and works towards achieving those goals. Some are more challenging, such as enrolling in a degree-seeking college program or as simple as getting involved in adaptive sports to regain confidence and functionality. Some goals are mundane but necessary and can save a lot of heartache post-recovery. Those may include legal consultation or making appointments to assure they receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. I would love to see every enrollee achieve their goals in preparation for what is next. I would also say that ensuring SMs receive all their pay entitlements, transition smoothly to the VA if needed, and are thriving post-recovery would be the definition of success.
NSHF: What does the future of the program look like?
Lisa Sexauer: I would like to see enrollment decline due to a lack of need. However, I really do not see that in our future. Illnesses, including mental health conditions, do not discriminate and will always be something with which we will have to contend. Unfortunately, I see the enrolled population growing, even in peacetime, as Sailors and Coast Guardsmen become more aware of the availability and that is a good thing. For that reason, I think the program is here to stay and as it continues to mature, I hope our enrollees find life post-recovery (and possibly post-service) more than just manageable. I hope they thrive whatever their circumstances and can look back on their service with pride. I want them to rest assured the Navy and Coast Guard did or will take care of their own. Our SMs and their families and caregivers have earned it!
NSHF: Could you please give an example of how financial stressors may impact a Sailor or Coast Guardsman in their recovery?
Lisa Sexauer: Sailors and Coast Guardsmen are no different from the general population, unstable finances cause tremendous stress and that often impacts the entire family. It’s known to break up marriages, lead to hopelessness, or less than desirable actions. The added stress can impair someone’s recovery and I have seen it inhibit someone’s view into the future. It can easily become a focal point, something someone cannot see past. Plugging folks into resources that helps them navigate the struggles of today so they can see a successful tomorrow is key. NSHF has been instrumental in assisting families through these times and I know our Sailors and Coast Guardsmen are immensely thankful.
NSHF: How did NSHF come to work with Navy Wounded Warrior?
Lisa Sexauer: The Foundation was stood up by a retired Navy Commander directly to support the Navy and Coast Guard population. The Foundation fills the gap between what the Federal Government can fund to meet needs and what it cannot. Other Services have NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) dedicated to supporting their service’s members as well.
NSHF: What role has Navy Safe Harbor Foundation played in the program’s success? What benefits does the relationship between NSHF and the Navy Wounded Warrior program bring to the Sailor and Coast Guardsman in comparison to other NGOs with a similar mission?
Lisa Sexauer: As mentioned, filling that gap between what the government can fund and what they cannot has proven essential to the recovery of many Sailors and Coast Guard personnel. It may be as simple as providing transportation of a loved one to the bedside of an RSM or covering basic life needs during a financial crisis. Anything that relieves stress, particularly during a crisis, contributes to success on the other side. Knowing that this program in partnership with NSHF has got our SMs’ backs lifts a tremendous burden and helps SMs and their families see the possibilities on the other side.
NSHF: What are the steps that lead to an enrollee’s needs turning into a request submitted to NSHF?
Dario Santana: Our regional staff works face to face with our enrollees, their families, and caregivers to identify non-medical needs and they do this by creating a comprehensive recovery plan (CRP). The CRP allows our staff to provide resources and support not only to the enrollee but to the families and caregivers as well. Through this CRP process and after all government resources have been exhausted is how requests get submitted to NSHF.
NSHF: Could you please give an example of how financial stressors may impact a Sailor or Coast Guardsman in their recovery and how the relief of that stressor may benefit them?
Dario Santana: In general, having a traumatic medical condition/s is highly stressful for our enrollees, their families, and caregivers. When you add the financial aspect it brings on another layer of stress to the unit. Many of our enrollees require caregivers to help them with their activities of daily living and sometimes caregivers need support whether it is air or ground transportation, this can impact their monthly budget. So when organizations like NSHF support these needs the stress can be somewhat less through the recovery process.
NSHF: Does NSHF bring any special programs to the Sailors and Coast Guardsmen enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior?
Dario Santana: The organization in itself is special in that they only support our Navy Wounded Warrior Sailors and Coast Guard enrollees. To add, the program has worked to streamline the process for getting the enrollees the help they require by creating a memorandum of understanding with the Navy Wounded Warrior program. Allowing for enrollees to get help in an expedient manner
Navy Wounded Warrior and NSHF have developed a working relationship focused on building a path that allows our Sailors and Coast Guardsmen to succeed in the next step of their journey. Their success makes us all successful and we are proud to be a part of that journey.
Virginia Golf Tournament Fort Belvoir, VA Sept. 9, 2022
Florida Golf Tournament Jacksonville, FL Oct. 28, 2022
Veterans Day Luncheon Arlington, VA Nov. 11, 2022
There are 1,600 Military Working Dogs (MWD) in the U. S. Military. They are highly trained assets and fill various roles. When they show signs of PTSD, they receive specialized care aimed at returning them to service or transfer to a non-combat role.