Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, Dream Foundation — the only national dream-granting organization for adults and their families suffering life-threatening illness — publicly launched its Dreams for Veterans program in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress, representatives of the White House’s Joining Forces program and Dreams for Veterans recipients and their families were in attendance.
Dreams for Veterans serves those who have served by fulfilling a final dream for terminally ill veterans and their families.
To date, the program has served the dreams of more than 100 terminally ill adults; that number is projected to expand to more than 600 over the next few years.
“It is a great honor to be joined today by The White House’s Joining Forces team, members of Congress and most importantly some of our nation’s bravest who have had their dreams served by the Dreams for Veterans program,” said Dream Foundation Executive Director Kisa Heyer.
U.S. military veteran dreamers to date have served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.
“We hope to serve as many as 400 veterans in 2016, and many, many more in the years to follow,” said Heyer. “Our goal is to expand our national presence and outreach efforts and be readilyavailable to every terminally ill veteran in need of a final dream.”
“As First Lady, one of my core missions is ensuring our service members, veterans and their families have the support they have earned when they hang up their uniforms. That is why I am so proud of the incredible work the Dream Foundation has done — and will continue to do — on behalf of those who served in our Nation’s armed forces,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, whose remarks were shared from a letter of support for the Dreams for Veterans program by U.S. Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, Executive Director of the White House’s Joining Forces program.
In 2011 Mrs. Obama joined with Dr. Jill Biden to launch Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative calling all Americans to rally around service members, veterans and their families, and support them through wellness, education and employment opportunities.
Joining Forces works hand-in-hand with the public and private sectors to ensure that service members, veterans and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives.
Speaking at the Sept. 17 event were Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who were joined by dream recipients and their families from each of their Congressional districts.
“Dreams for Veterans offers truly heartwarming acts of gratitude to those who have given so much to our country,” Congresswoman Lois Capps said. “I have long admired the Dream Foundation’s work, and I am inspired by their efforts to give back to terminally ill veterans and their families.”
Following the formal speaking program, a panel discussion moderated by Dream Foundation’s Heyer comprised representatives from leading veterans service organizations,who discussed the special needs of veterans at end-of-life.
Panelists included Sarah Meltzer from the National Hospice Foundation, Garry Augustine from Disabled American Veterans and Steve Schwab from Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
Honored guests at the event included those who have received dreams from the Dreams for Veterans program and/or their family representatives. Dreamers and family members included:
James (Arizona) — James passed away June 24, 2015, from terminal adenocarcinoma, one day before he realized his dream of visiting Washington, D.C., with his wife and son. He was 55 years old.
James served honorably in the U.S. Navy from 1977–1981 before retiring as a disbursing clerk second class. Having servedduring peacetime, he shared with Dreams for Veterans that his most meaningful memory was pulling out of port and seeing the land disappear.
“I always got a charge over that,” he had said. “When I was on watch, I would look out and realize that I was protecting family and loved ones back home.”
Senator McCain’s office helped plan a memorable trip for James and his wife and son, including tours of the White House and U.S. Capitol as well as visits to historic landmarks around the city — a trip he had to cancel at the last minute because he became unable to travel.
As James’s wife Sheri expressed after he died, “My husband was overwhelmed by the foundation granting him his dream. Even though he didn’t get to go on the trip, it helped to restore his faith in the goodness of people.”
James’s wife attended the event on his behalf.
Ray (California) — Ray is both an 89-year-old leukemia and heart disease patient and a U.S. Navy veteran.
He served from 1944–1946 and his title was seaman third class, ships mate. He was stationed at Sampson, N.Y., and later mostly loaded ammunition in the Utah and Nevada deserts.
Ray’s dream, to enjoy a trip to the Yosemite Valley with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, occurred in May 2015.
Dreams for Veterans sent the family to Yosemite, where they stayed in the Ahwahnee Hotel, enjoyed stunning views of the valley and made perhaps their last set of memories together there in the park.
Hallock (Connecticut) — Hallock is a U.S. Army veteran. His dream was to make memories with his wife and three young children (aged 8, 6 and 4) by taking them to Walt Disney World in Orlando. His dream occurred in January 2014.
Hisfamily of five visited both SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando in addition to Walt Disney World. Hallock said, “I felt such peace and joy to see my kids look so happy and excited and they explored the parks.”
At the time of his dream,Hallock’s physician attested that he had a life expectancy of nine months due to his terminal Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, he has exceeded that prognosis and was thrilled to share his story.
Hallock is a proud veteran, who spent six years in the Army, serving one tour in Iraq. After that time he transferred to the Air Force, where he toured Iraq again.
He has received honorable discharges from both branches of service.
Randy (Ohio) — Randy passed away Jan. 24, 2015 from cancer. His dream, to attend a Pittsburgh Steelers game, occurred Oct. 21, 2014.
Randy was a member of the U.S. Navy from 1975–1995, serving on submarines.
He was also an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Over the years he had attended a few home games, but with finances strained as a result of his illness, he had not been able to see a game live for quite some time.
Last fall, Randy appealed to Dreams for Veterans for help getting to Heinz Field and watching his favorite team from the sidelines.
Randy and his family went to a game, after which he wrote to Dreams for Veterans saying, “It was absolutely fabulous. It meant so much to us. The weather was beautiful; everything was perfect. We made amazing memories.”
Randy’s family attended the event on his behalf.
To learn more about Dreams for Veterans, visit www.dreamfoundation.org/veterans.
— Kelly Sweda represents the Dream Foundation.