Omaha-based nonprofit hopes to build residence for combat-wounded vets

By Julie Anderson  – World-Herald staff writer – Jan 8, 2018

Colonel John D. Folsom, USMCR (Ret.)
Colonel John D. Folsom, USMCR (Ret.)

Several years ago, retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. John Folsom was touring Bethesda Naval Hospital at the holidays when he encountered a young soldier who’d suffered a brain injury when an improvised explosive device detonated near his head in Iraq.

With the soldier were his sister and his mother, who cares for him.

“What never left me is, his mother is his primary caregiver,” Folsom said. “What’s going to happen to him when his mother is no longer able to care for him?”

Now Wounded Warriors Family Support, the Omaha-based national nonprofit that Folsom founded to support families of those wounded or killed in combat, has begun planning a 24-bed residential home in rural Douglas County for combat-wounded veterans who, for whatever reason, have no one in their lives capable of providing day-to-day care.

The organization has hired a project management firm and committed up to $150,000 for initial planning and preparation, to be completed by late spring. The Mount Calvary Commandery No. 1 in Papillion, an appendant Masonic body, has agreed to donate 10 acres for the facility north of Rainwood Road, near the Omaha Public Safety Training Center.

The organization hasn’t yet secured funds to construct the residence. But Hal Daub, who serves on the group’s board and on its building committee, said he’s confident that the organization will be able to raise an estimated $6 million to $10 million. That money would cover the cost of building the residence and create an endowment to guarantee ongoing operations and help cover gaps between benefits veterans bring with them and the cost of care.

“This is an exciting, unique living accommodation for a very special group of men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country right in the middle of the United States,” said Daub, a University of Nebraska regent and former Omaha mayor and Nebraska congressman.

Folsom, the organization’s president, is also confident that the money can be raised. The organization, which has a four-star rating on Charity Navigator, plans to start with foundations in Omaha, across Nebraska and nationally. Members already have had preliminary conversations with some. But ultimately, he said, they will reach out to potential donors large and small. His hope is to open by Christmas 2019. The organization has launched a website specifically for the project at dunhamhouse.org. More information about the organization is available at www.wwfs.org.

“It’s a mission that’s not being done,” Folsom said. “And I truly believe people looking to support our veterans, once they understand our vision, the generosity of the American people will come through and help us build it.”

The facility would be known as Dunham House, named in honor of Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who served with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Dunham, a New York native and recipient of the Medal of Honor, died of injuries he suffered when he smothered a grenade with his body to protect fellow Marines on April 24, 2005, at Husaybah, Iraq.

The residence would be designed for men and women who need help with activities of daily living, such as cooking, bathing and dressing. It would not be geared toward those who need skilled nursing care, although the group is working to make provisions for those who come to need it. Residents would be divided into smaller groups in a family living setting in order to provide the kind of camaraderie that service members come to rely on while they’re on active duty.

While the group hasn’t done a formal study to determine the need for such a facility, Folsom said, members’ experience working with families across the country — providing retreats, respite care and other assistance — shows that the need is there.

Parents of such veterans are aging, siblings often are scattered across the country and divorce rates — fueled by the stresses of dealing with life-changing injuries — run high. The alternatives for combat-wounded veterans with no family support are assisted living centers and veterans’ homes, which tend to be populated by older residents and those without the same combat experiences. All four Nebraska veterans’ homes had waiting lists at the end of December.

Daub said he believes the proposed residence has the potential to be a model for more. “We think a lot of folks will want to build more right away,” he said.

Anthony “AJ” Johnson of the Mount Calvary Commandery said the Masonic group has given the wounded warriors organization an option on additional land, at a reasonable rate. It owns a total of 80 acres, currently farmland. The donation of the 10 acres is contingent on the organization raising the funds to build the residence. Johnson, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, said he, too, believes there is a need for the residence the group has planned, and then some. “There are assisted living facilities out there … but nothing set up strictly for the combat veterans. I think he’s meeting a need that nobody’s thought about yet.”

Daub said Omaha’s central location would provide easy access for family members to visit. The residence would include some rooms to accommodate visitors for short stays.

Daub said the group plans to work with Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital to provide assistance on an outpatient basis.

The project also offers the potential for a number of public-private partnerships, such as in-kind donations from building suppliers and trade groups, as well as veterans groups.

“We think Omahans will be pleased to know this kind of project is being developed right here,” he said.

 

 

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments.
Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.