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Nonprofit fund to announce medical center for soldiers



Published: Thu, July 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund works to ease the plight of the war wounded.

SCRIPPS HOWARD

With military treatment facilities increasingly strained, a private group intends to step into the breach to construct -- gratis -- a $30 million rehabilitation center for the American war wounded.

The nonprofit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund -- which until recently had focused on financially helping the families of GIs who died in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere -- will announce the unusual project today at a Washington event.

The facility, which will be called the Intrepid Center, will be built at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, according to the fund's Web site, www.fallenheroesfund.org.

Troops with the most severe injuries who need extensive medical care and specialized rehabilitation will be helped at the facility. They will include those with amputated limbs, bad burns, paralysis, blindness and severe head trauma, fund president Bill White said in a Web site message.

In all, since the war on terror began in 2001, more than 14,000 troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, nearly 7,300 were patched up and returned to duty, according to Defense Department statistics.

That leaves nearly 6,900 who require more long-term care, and the number is growing as the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan continues.

Raising awareness

In recent months, veterans' groups have been raising the alarm that existing treatment and rehabilitation facilities such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, are laboring hard to serve a burgeoning population. In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office director told Congress that the Department of Veterans Affairs has not planned or geared up adequately to handle the waves of new casualties, now or in the future.

John Melia, executive director of the Wounded Warrior Project, said the ranks of the seriously wounded are growing by 30 cases a week.

He applauded the Intrepid fund's rehab project and said his Roanoke, Va.-based group -- one of the largest private, nonprofit groups dedicated to helping wounded GIs -- has been contemplating a similar "public-private" partnership.

"There's a tremendous need," Melia said.

Until May, when President Bush signed a law boosting government death benefits, the Intrepid fund had concentrated on giving money to newly bereaved families for their immediate needs.

However, the increase in government aid -- from $12,000 to $100,000 for the families -- along with sweetened life insurance payments -- from $250,000 to $400,000 for each fallen soldier -- changed the focus of the group, White said.

The new facility

The planned Texas center will be a 50,000-square-foot structure outfitted with "top-of-the-line" indoor and outdoor rehab facilities and a day care center. It will be attached directly to two 21-room Fisher Houses at the fort, where family members can stay free or for as little as $10 a night while their loved ones are treated.

The Intrepid fund is an offshoot of the Fisher House Foundation, a private effort that has built 32 such houses at 17 U.S. military installations.

Promising to build the Texas facility "as quickly as possible," the Intrepid organization said every penny donated by the public will go directly to building the rehab center, with none allocated to administrative costs.

The ranks of contributors to the fallen heroes fund, who are listed on the Web site, include the Avon Foundation, Anheuser-Busch and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation -- each of which has pitched in $1 million.




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