By Danielle Beurteaux
It started with a visit to a 2,000-acre ranch an hour from Dallas, where 15 recently wounded military veterans were taken for some rest and relaxation. But the vets were enjoying themselves so much that what was meant to be a weekend turned into an unforgettable six-day break for Kyle Bass, managing partner of the Dallas hedge fund Hayman Capital Management, who was along for the ride. “I called my office and said, ‘Cancel my calendar; I’m not coming back.’ ”
| ||Kyle Bass: Going from the armed forces into the civilian world, the friction is enormous|
Bass, 42, is on the board of Troops First Foundation, based in Laurel, Md., and founded in 2008, which offers programs to injured and noninjured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. About 60,000 troops have been wounded in those two military operations, and 1,000 are amputees. The Department of Veterans Affairs is now tracking 163,000 new cases, which include brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which can take time to develop. The real casualty figures may not be known for years.
Vets being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Tex. went to the ranch for that first visit, and Bass felt an immediate connection. “When you sit and talk with these guys, you can’t but help want to care for them,” he says. “When they get hurt, they may wake up at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany or Bethesda, Md., because they were so severely injured they were transported unconscious. They have multiple surgeries, multiple doctors’ appointments, multiple physical therapy sessions. And none of their friends are around, none of their units are around, and they feel isolated and almost left behind; they feel guilty about being hurt.”
To help injured soldiers reach some resolution, Troops First has created Operation Proper Exit, the only program of its kind, where vets return to active forward operating bases in Iraq. Troops First has organized 10 trips to Iraq so far, taking 77 veterans, and is planning a similar trip to Afghanistan before the end of 2011. It is also launching a needs-based housing grant program, called Operation Front Door, for combat-injured and disabled veterans. Golf coaching and hospital visits are two other Troops First programs.
Rick Kell, co-founder and executive director of Troops First, says that Bass is always there to help. “He’s there on the other end of the phone when we need to get something done for an individual. He really helps facilitate resources,” says Kell.
Employment is another concern for veterans who leave the armed forces with few job skills that are transferable. “Going from the armed forces into the civilian world, the friction is enormous because of the job functionality disparities between private sector needs and armed forces skill training,” says Bass. The Troops First network has been able to help some soldiers get jobs, something that can be done to help veterans across the country, says Bass.
“There are so many things that are easy to do if you just set those plans in motion,” says Bass. “And we’ve been able to set some of those plans in motion.”