Last Updated: 11/02/2012*

Adam Silva Image
Adam Silva
Chief Development Officer,
Wounded Warrior Project

It all began with a car full of care packages. Nine years later, the Wounded Warrior Project® has grown into a $130 million charity offering a raft of programs for veterans injured in the wars since 9/11.

This month Raytheon has launched a Twitter campaign, Hashtag4Heroes, aimed at rallying support for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based group. In this interview, Wounded Warrior’s chief development officer, Adam Silva, explains how the organization began, what it does and where it’s headed.

How did the Wounded Warrior Project start?

We were founded in 2003, shortly after the push into Afghanistan.

Our founders recognized that we had men and women who were being taken off the battlefields with severe wounds and injuries. We knew they were going to come back to hospitals without basic comfort items like a medicine kit, shorts, underwear, socks, a sweatshirt.

And so our first executive director, John Melia, came up with the idea to create a backpack and put comfort items in it. He drove to a local Wal-Mart, bought all the backpacks they had, filled them with a bunch of comfort items, packed his car, drove up to Walter Reed (Military Medical Center) and started handing them out.

About two days later the people at Walter Reed called him up and said, “You know what, we need 50 more. When can you come back?”

How many backpacks have you given out since then?

We have distributed somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 backpacks. Our transition care packs are another 34,000. That’s for warriors that aren’t necessarily evacuated to a stateside hospital.

But now you offer many more programs to veterans, right?

Empowerment starts at the bedside with just a simple gift, like a backpack. But it also means walking them through the myriad of programs so that ultimately you’ve got a wounded warrior who’s well adjusted in mind, body and spirit.

We now have 18 programs and services, everything from wellness retreats to job training.

How many veterans have you helped?

Our active alumni database just eclipsed the 17,000 mark.  That includes all kinds of help: people who have gone to our Restore Warriors website for some help with post-traumatic stress, people who came to an event or a leadership summit, or someone we helped with filing a benefits claim.

These services are needed partly because so many more U.S. soldiers are surviving their injuries than ever before. What’s behind that trend?

The everyday foot soldier on the ground is being trained so effectively at combat, life-saving medicine that they’re literally saving their brothers and sisters who otherwise would have died. That’s the first thing.

Then you’ve got warriors wearing body armor, where in past conflicts it was something that you could either put on or not put on. So now we’re seeing more instances of double, triple and even quadruple amputations than we ever did in the past.

What about combat stress?

There are estimates that 400,000 men and women are going to suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress as a result of their deployments.

So when you try to paint a picture of a cause that’s going to go forward for years to come, those are numbers that are very important.

Post-traumatic stress, or as we call it, combat stress, can manifest itself immediately or it can take years — if not decades — to manifest. If it’s gone untreated or undiagnosed, that’s where the bigger problems can come in. They lead to the inability to keep a job, unemployment, homelessness, spousal abuse, substance abuse.

That why it’s so important for us to engage the Wounded Warrior alumni so we can try to get them in and at least expose them to the programs and services we offer. We treat emotional and brain injuries just as seriously as we do physical wounds.

Where does your funding come from?

Our support comes from the American people. We don’t accept any federal or state money in any way. So 100 percent of our donations are private, whether they come from individual donors or corporations like Raytheon.

Raytheon has really been kind of a pioneer for us at WWP, stepping up to the plate and saying, “Look, we’ve seen what you guys are doing. We’re obviously in the business of helping warriors fight more efficiently. We want to support you.”

They came to us with very little agenda and very little expectations, even after they did a tremendous amount of homework on us.

Do you also advocate on veterans' issues?

Our mission statement is actually to honor and empower wounded warriors. A big part of that is to elevate the discourse and the dialogue about veterans’ issues as a nation. That’s the honor part.

Can you tell us about the Hashtags4Heroes campaign?

We’ve been able to do some really creative things in the last year and a half with our corporate partners, everything from QR code scans on the back of a ketchup bottle to using Facebook to create a call to action for supporters.

So when Raytheon, being such a technologically advanced company, came to us and said, “Hey, let’s look into doing some stuff with Twitter,” we were thrilled. It’s really a home run for us.

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