Special Feature: Cause USA Brings Relaxation to America’s Veterans

Dr. Jack London, Executive Chairman of CACI International, addresses the audience at the Cause 2010 Gala, held annually on Veterans Day

When not serving as executive chairman and chairman of the board of IT provider CACI International, Dr. Jack London sits on the board of directors at Cause USA, an organization that helps America’s wounded warriors.

London’s involvement with Cause dates back to its inception in 2003, when four West Point graduates who had served in Vietnam and their wives began providing personal-care items and clothes to wounded soldiers arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. For London, who served 12 years of active duty with the Navy and an additional 12 years in the reserves, the organization’s mission hits home in multiple ways.

”In 2005, we lost our nephew in combat operations in Mosul, Iraq,” London said. “I also had a son-in-law who served in Afghanistan for a year in the armed services . . . He came home safe and sound. We are very much involved in these things on a personal level, as you might understand.”

Cause volunteers unite at the annual Viva! Vienna! Festival in Vienna, VA

Headquartered in D.C. with services offered across the country,  Cause — an acronym for Comfort for America’s Armed Services — aims to ease wounded warriors back into traditional life by offering therapeutic entertainment, social activities and physical relaxation techniques. Cause board member and Iraq War veteran Justin Constantine says with more soldiers surviving attacks than ever before, the scope of injuries sustained in combat is growing larger and presenting new challenges in how to respond to them.

“It is not unusual for these men and women to spend 18 months in the hospitals recovering,” he said. “Having access to the hundreds and hundreds of games and DVDs really help alleviates the boredom and frustration that normally accompanies such a long stay. The hospital can be a very lonely place, and having access to such a huge selection of movies and games is a real benefit.”

A June 2011 Washington Post article estimated that between 44,000 and 66,000 veterans are chronically homeless, meaning they have been without shelter for more than a year or on multiple occasions in recent years. Additionally, a 2009 report on homelessness conducted by the Veterans Affairs Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that veterans are approximately 50 percent more likely to become homeless compared with all Americans.

These are issues the organization is well aware of and “not something for which we can adequately prepare,” Constantine said. “The latest studies indicate that 1 in 5 returning service members faces behavioral health issues, and if untreated, these issues can certainly play a part in homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, serious financial problems, homelessness and even suicide,” he added.

What is particularly tragic, Constantine said, is that many of these behavioral health issues are treatable to some extent. However, successful treatment requires an environment that encourages identification and treatment, the proper diagnosis and adequate resources to truly provide the required remedies, he pointed out.

London explained that Cause promotes recreation, relaxation and recuperation for members of the armed forces in multiple ways. Seven digital libraries offering various forms of entertainment have resulted in 250 million transactions since the first was installed at Walter Reed in 2005. Game carts for bedridden service members are also a hit. Monthly brunches are well-attended events, as is the yearly gala held each Veterans Day.

But of all the services provided by Cause, arguably the most successful is the massage therapy program. Founded in 2007 at Walter Reed, Cause works with the warrior transition unit to recruit and bring in licensed massage therapists to provide therapeutic treatment following physical therapy.

“I am amazed every day,” said Pam Derrow, executive director of Cause. “These big, strapping guys say, ‘I’m not sure if I want to do a message.’ Once they get a message, they come back, and we’re finding from some of the anecdotal data we get from them that it is decreasing their stress level and their pain level by as much as sometimes 40 or 50 percent. We’re pretty excited about that.”

With four employees on Cause’s payroll, Derrow says the heart of the operation is its extensive network of volunteers. More than 400 of them are stationed across the country and come from all walks of life. With professional interest in the military and some executives having served themselves, many government contracting agencies are heavily involved. Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell, Jr. of The Spectrum Group serves as president of Cause’s board of directors, and retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, Norm Augustine, served as the 2010 honorary gala chair.

“We have lawyers and doctors and big corporations, moms, high school kids — they are across the spectrum of America,” Derrow said. “CACI, SAIC, BAE — they are always very helpful for us… Intel called us the other day and asked how they could help. I’ll get emails saying, ‘Hey, we really want to help. What do you need?’”

Cause’s future plans include consolidating the organization’s branch at Walter Reed with the former Navy Medical Center to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and moving programs to Fort Belvoir. It’s a move that will allow Cause to take on more volunteers and add more programs for those on the waiting list to help, Derrow said. With 86 cents of every dollar put directly toward Cause programs, Derrow said the impact of the organization on those it serves cannot be underestimated.

”Taking care of these people, I think, is a national responsibility,” London said, “and the government has an important role in it. But I think the American public can and should be of service as well.”

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