Despite red tape, group helps veterans' families

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Marine Cpl. Raul Olivares Jr. was lying in a ward at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Helmand province when he learned that his home, in a trailer park in Texas, had been flooded.

It was a hard blow financially for Olivares and his wife, Leslie, who had left her job to care for their 3-year-old daughter and then moved to Bethesda to care for her husband.

"We were having financial difficulty, and the injury made it worse," said Leslie Olivares, whose husband has had about 20 surgeries on his fractured legs. "We were having too many expenses."

Many wounded service members find themselves in tough financial straits. What makes the Olivares family unusual is the way they ended up getting help.

A charity called Troops Need You that is active at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had attempted to reach out to wounded troops and their families at the Bethesda hospital since the spring but was turned away.

It then conducted its own "counterbureaucracy" operations to provide the aid, according to its founder.

"They are blocking private support entities" at Bethesda, said Eric Egland, an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel who launched Troops Need You in 2007.

Egland said his group, which raises funds to provide emergency assistance for wounded service members and supplies to troops in combat zones, submitted information requested by Bethesda but was told repeatedly by the hospital's liaison office that a program for channeling benevolent support to the wounded was not yet in place.

Hospital officials contacted last week said the problem was probably the result of an administrative oversight and offered to apologize.

"I really can't explain how this happened," said Col. Chuck Callahan, chief of staff at the medical center. "I'm not offering excuses."

Hospital spokeswoman Sandy Dean said any group offering a donation of more than $25 has to undergo screening by the legal office, and then the hospital liaison office decides whether to accept the aid. She said the hospital has ongoing relationships with four main benevolent groups.

To circumvent the bureaucracy, Egland spent $2,000 in the summer to take out a full-page ad in the Journal, the newspaper of the Bethesda medical center, in which he offered as much as $1,000 in emergency aid for families of service members being treated at the hospital.

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