As I sat here at my desk thinking of topics to write about for our first new blog I remembered a comment I saw on our Facebook page that seemed like the perfect blog to start off with – why? Simply because it’s a question we get asked over and over again. It’s a harmless question and shows just how many big hearted people are out there but it’s a question that must be addressed.
Here is the question, or a version of it, “Do you have to know a patient at Walter Reed or can people just go and try to visit with soldiers who might want company or are lonely?”
Seems like a great question and shows a true genuine desire to want to give back. So, what’s so wrong with this question or why will we tell you no?
Here is my answer. We LOVE that you care or that your community group wants to be involved and wants to visit Walter Reed. In fact, we always say everyone should walk the halls of Walter Reed just one time as their lives would be changed forever. BUT think about this question for a moment. There are thousands upon thousands of you that would jump at the chance to visit a recovering service member at Walter Reed, and at other military hospitals around the country. If everyone were allowed in…can you imagine the crowds? There would be lines around the block of people asking to visit. So, here are the main reasons we will politely decline your request to come visit a recovering service member.
First, Walter Reed is a military installation. So, unless you are visiting a specific patient or have a medical appointment, you have to have a valid reason to be on base. If you are not on the base access list at the gate, you cannot come on. Remember the recent shootings on naval bases? Remember all the uproar about how could someone get on base to cause harm? Yeah, safety and privacy of our service members are number one and so access is limited. Walter Reed is not like your local community hospital.
Second, it’s a hospital. So, the goal while they are there is to recover as fast as possible in a healthy and healing environment. Constant distractions and visitors can hinder that. As it stands already there is a constant revolving door of visitors for the wounded at Walter Reed from doctors, physical therapists, family, friends, service groups, celebrities and politicians. Sleep is VERY hard to come by. Peace is hard to come by. Heck, most of us have who have had to spend the night in a hospital as a patient all know too well how little sleep you get. At Walter Reed multiply that by 100. Constant distractions do not create a healthy or stress free environment. The #1 priority is the well-being of the service member, would you not agree?
That leads me into the third item, infection control. This is a HUGE deal at Walter Reed. Many of the wounded arrive and are hanging on to life by a thread because of their injuries. Not only are they battling the infections they may have contracted overseas, but they must also fight to avoid infection at the hospital. We all know hospitals are full of sick people right? The wounded have enough to deal with at the hospital alone, so to add in lots of strangers wandering around and knocking on doors is basically meaning we are putting their lives at risk. Hygiene and infection control are huge issues and the hospital is always doing its best to control them so one of the easiest ways to avoid bringing in germs is to keep the sick and contagious people out.
Finally the fourth item which can be a touchy subject, our Veterans are not on display. I know most of you are true and genuine caring people so for many this would not apply. But sadly we have to spread this message as some just don’t get it. The service members are real people, facing real challenges. Their lives are forever changed. They do not need to be paraded around on display as a pawn for some political or private motive. They are not there to sell your product. They are not freaks or circus oddities or animals on display at the zoo; they are your son, your daughter, your husband or your wife. Their main purpose is not so you can get a photo opportunity or as some of us call it to “Pet the Vet.” This may seem harsh but you would be surprised just how many people have some ill-directed motives, either intentional or not intentional. We are here to help protect these heroes, not use them. Now don’t get me wrong and don’t be afraid to talk to these heroes if you see them out and about, hear their stories or educate your children on their injuries. But please be considerate for their sake. Think of these heroes first before you act. Ask yourself what is your motive and would I be helping or hurting?
So how can we help then? Well, to limit the access to the public, but to make sure our wounded are taken care of, there are amazing non-governmental agencies, such as Operation Ward 57, Marine Moms, Red Cross, Yellow Ribbon Fund, Blue Star Families, Aleethia Foundation, Adopt A Soldier Platoon and many, many more, whose job is to go in and care for the wounded and their families on your behalf. We work long and hard to develop our relationships with the hospital command and staff so that they trust us to provide the very best care. We are there to represent YOU. Trust us and let us deliver your good will and messages of hope and love.
I hope this helps put some perspective to the question – “Can’t I just go visit a lonely soldier?” I hope it also helps you to understand just a few of the many working gears of the hospital, and that our job is to help keep those gears moving as smoothly as efficiently as possible so that our heroes can go home to be with their families or to return to active duty as quickly as possible. Let’s not create more burdens, but instead make it so these heroes and their families want for nothing.
– Brittney H. OPW57 Executive Director
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The views expressed in this article at those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OPW57 Board or the organization as a whole.