A "helping hand" to wounded soldiers and their families

4:05 PM, Jul 22, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- There are only four hospitals in the country that treat soldiers and veterans with multiple traumatic injuries.  The busiest is the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa.

But it's not only the wounded soldiers who need help. Often, their families join them.  And that means spouses, children and parents spend long hours at the hospital--miles away from home.

That's where Operation Helping Hand comes in.  The group was founded in 2004 after a Haley administrator called Bob Silah, who had retired from the Navy after serving at Central Command.  Haley was seeing a great number of wounded soldiers and families who needed help with expenses.  One family was even found sleeping in their car.

"Our mission is to help the active duty and their families when they come here for treatment," said Bob Silah--chairman of Operation Helping Hand.

Many of the family members who are at Haley have left their homes and their jobs to be close to their wounded soldiers.  Operation Helping Hand has helped pay mortgages, insurance and spent more than $100,000 to fly people from their homes to Tampa.

The group also gives mothers and wives certificates to day spas and purchased tickets to Busch Gardens or the Tampa Bay Rays for the families.

And once a month, Operation Helping Hand holds a dinner for wounded active-duty soldiers and their families at Haley's Spinal Cord Injury Center.

Amy Staff Sergeant Alex Dillmann brought his wife Holly and his mother-in-law to July's dinner.  Dillman has been at Haley for four months, after breaking his neck and legs following an explosion in northern Afghanistan.

"It's good to get away from all the hustle and bustle of therapy," said Dillman, "and come here and just relax and have a good meal with the wife.  It's always good."

Operation Helping Hand gets a lot of help from the community to pay for its services.  July's dinner was funded by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

"As a defense contractor, we support the military from a business perspective," says Booz Allen Hamilton principal Tony Urbanovich.  "But this brings it home for us. We look at the military and their families and the sacrifices they've made in service for our country, and that's the same spirit of service that we're here to support, and to honor them for the sacrifices they've made."

Honor is a familiar word around Operation Helping Hand.  Many of the volunteers are veterans themselves.  They want to make sure this generation's soldiers are honored for their service.

"It's gratifying to see that we're helping people, like we didn't get the help," said Silah.

"Sitting and eating dinner and being around people...it's kind of nice," said Holly Dillmann.  "It makes you realize there's a world outside the hospital."

Click here to learn more about Operation Helping Hand.

If you know an individual or organization that you consider a "Hero on the Homefront," leave us a comment below.

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