Though the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project is undergoing a leadership change, it will continue its mission to make returning home a "home sweet home" experience for soldiers wounded in combat.
Laurie Ott is stepping down as its executive director, but she will take a seat on the board of directors.
"I'm thrilled and delighted because this organization is so important," Ott said. "It's important that everyone in the community aims to serve those who have made sacrifices in their service to us."
Ott became president of the University Health Care Foundation on Monday.
On Wednesday, Jim Lorraine was announced as the new executive director. He will begin May 1.
Lorraine has been the director of the Special Operations Command Care Coalition in Tampa, Fla., since 2005. He has also served as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel after 22 years of military service, including eight combat deployments.
The CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project was founded in 2007 by Ott and former U.S. Rep. D. Douglas Barnard to provide support for wounded veterans and their families, according to its Web site.
"We want to make sure that when they come home, they get not only the physical health care they need, but the (skills) they need to transition back into society instead of locking themselves in their room," Ott said. "We want them to contribute to society as productive members."
The group was conceived when Ott, a former television news anchorwoman, interviewed a soldier in the Active Duty Rehab Center at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. The soldier had lost her leg in Iraq and had never learned to use her prosthetic leg. It was only by chance that she learned of the rehab center in Augusta.
"She was using a walker when she arrived, and three weeks later, she walked out unassisted," Ott said. "Out of journalistic curiosity, I wondered if anyone else out there didn't know a government agency existed in Augusta that could help them."
Ott and Barnard joined Jim Hull, Clay Boardman, Boone Knox, Jean Roper, Pete Caye and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith to determine how Augusta could best augment care for wounded veterans.
The project coordinates efforts of the Army, Veterans Affairs, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Labor and the community to provide health care and rehabilitation for any type of injury, treatment and counseling for substance abuse, marriage enrichment workshops, civilian job training, and housing for soldiers returning from combat and their families.
"It's most satisfying to know we're right on track and have put in a model program that other communities want to emulate," Ott said. "Instead of being segmented, we work together to accomplish a common goal. Augusta is pretty special with all the resources we have. There's no limit to what we can accomplish."
Because many Americans have no relative serving in active military, they are disconnected from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and assume the Pentagon takes care of wounded troops, Ott said. She has heard people argue that the soldiers volunteered, thus they volunteered for the combat-related hardships. "They may have volunteered, but we are asking them to do what we would not ask the general public to do in terms of sacrifice," she said. "Reintegrating people after combat is not the job of the Department of Defense. It's the job of the community."
The sudden retirement is an adjustment for the wounded.
"Many of them planned to serve 20 years and retire," Ott said. "They didn't anticipate leaving after a few months because of an injury."
The success of the local project has reached Washington and is spreading around the country as other communities seek to help wounded veterans.
"I get phone calls at least twice a month from Col. David Sutherland (Mullen's special assistant) talking about other communities who have contacted him because they want to do what we're doing here," Ott said. "Once you get the information-sharing going, it will make people's head spin how fast you get things accomplished."