By: Gordon Williams, Northwest Region Volunteer
Veterans Day is just ahead, making it a perfect time to reflect on how the Red Cross Hero Care Network supports the nation’s military, both active and retired. The Network, staffed by Red Cross volunteers, springs into action when a service member faces an emergency and needs help in a hurry.
The nature of the emergency varies from case to case, says Brandon Frawley of Olympia, Washington, who leads the Hero Care Network in the Red Cross Northwest Region. It could be death or illness in the family, or a baby who came too soon. It could be a veteran, down on his luck, who finds himself homeless. There have been cases, Frawley says, where the Red Cross had to provide emergency midwife services for the wife of an active duty service member.
No matter the reason, Red Cross volunteer caseworkers go to work when called, doing what needs to be done to resolve the emergency. The Red Cross says the Hero Care Network functions “all over the world — seven days a week. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Hero Care is just one important part of the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) function. SAF offers a wide range of services and programs to service members, active and retired, and their families. Nationwide, the Hero Care Network handles about 150,000 cases a year — about 1,000 of them in the Northwest region.
Home base for Frawley is Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), the sprawling Army-Air Force base near Tacoma. Frawley is supported by 24 volunteer caseworkers who have been specially trained to handle emergencies.
“Most work at JBLM but some are able to work from home,” he said. “Those working from home are still in touch with me 24/7.”
As noted, there are many reasons why the Hero Care Network is called into action. Frawley offers the example of a father, with a son on overseas military duty, who falls from a ladder and is killed. The family wants the son home as soon as possible and the son wants to be with his family in this time of crisis.
The first step for a caseworker, once alerted, is to contact the service member’s military unit to arrange for emergency leave. Next, the caseworker will help arrange transportation to the soldier’s hometown. If financial assistance is needed to pay the expenses involved in getting home, the caseworkers can help there. Through it all, the caseworkers keep in close touch with the family and the service member’s chain of command, making sure all is going according to plan.
The Network also serves retired veterans who have their own types of crises to deal with, at times providing financial help and access to medical services.
“We have had to place veterans in homeless shelters,” Frawley said. “Whatever they need, we try to provide.”
Network caseworkers can turn to many agencies as they seek to aid a client. Most units of local government offer at least some assistance to service members and veterans. Often service organizations such as the American Legion can help. Frawley points to an entity called Mercy Angel Flights, an organization that can arrange flights with little to no upfront cost.
“The money has to be paid back, but the terms are easy,” Frawley says.
While Frawley has handled hundreds of Hero Care Network cases, some stand out more vividly than others.
“The most emotional ones are the ones that occur during the holidays,” he says. “The most tragic ones involve parents who have lost a child.”
In every case, Frawley says, the goal is the same. “We try to get someone home before a person close to them dies, or before a child is born.”
Frawley came to the Red Cross in August 2021 as what is called the Veterans Work Study Program. He is a veteran who served in Iraq in 2003-2004. He was recruited to the Red Cross by Jason Matheney, long-time SAF director who recently retired.
If the idea of joining Frawley’s team appeals to you, the Red Cross makes it easy to learn more and sign up. Click here to learn about the skillset needed to serve in this position, and apply to volunteer. If you are an existing Red Cross volunteer, sign in to Volunteer Connection, go to the opportunities page, view all and search for Hero Care Network.