Study to Help AW2 Soldiers

Study to Help AW2 Soldiers 20 May 2009, 08:23

This is a summary of anarticle originally published in the March 2009 issue of VA Research Currents

“Come here, Jones, come here!” An officer yelled to SSG Lee Jones as Jones bolted from the burning Humvee. He started running and then dropped to the ground and rolled to try to douse the flames that engulfed his face, hands and legs. His truck had hit a roadside bomb. The three squad members in the truck with him died in the explosion.

Jones, of the 82nd Airborne, was soon evacuated to a field hospital and then to Germany. But he was in a coma-the flames had eaten away the skin from nearly half his body-and doctors didn’t give him long to live.

That was in October 2005. Today-after a week at the U.S. military hospital in Germany, four months at the Army burn center in San Antonio, 18 months in VA polytrauma care in Tampa, and now physical therapy at his local VA in North Carolina-Jones is taking life one day at a time with his wife, Maria, and three-year old daughter, Angel. He says he feels grateful for each milestone in his ongoing battle to regain function. “I can use PlayStation. I can go up stairs. I sing in the choir at church,” says Jones, his speech still slow and slightly slurred. In addition to burns, he suffered a brain injury and damage to muscles and nerves throughout his body. He had strokes, seizures and a heart attack within two weeks of the blast. His left thumb was amputated. “My hands don’t work. I can’t feel my feet,” says the 26-year-old veteran. He still uses a wheelchair, but increasingly he is able to walk.

A new study by researchers with VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) is looking at long-term outcomes for people like Lee Jones-veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have suffered serious burn injuries. What are their health care and social-service needs months and years after their injuries? How well can they function?

The VA and DoD researchers will assess patients at discharge from the hospital and then yearly for four years. They’ll administer a wide array of questionnaires covering physical, psychological and social issues. The ultimate goal is to help people like Lee Jones. The Army veteran will likely continue improving in some areas, while other deficits caused by his injuries may be lifelong. For now, though, he’s content to savor moments like those when he’s holding his little girl-which he wasn’t able to do until recently because of the burns on his hands and arms.

“I’m trying to be happy all the time,” says Jones. “I’m glad I’m alive.”

To read the entire VA Research Currents article click here.

AW2 Anniversary

Prior to becoming the AW2 Director I spent most of my 30 years in the Army Medical Department on the tactical side. From company grade time in Desert Storm to OIF tours as both a battalion and brigade commander I tried to ensure Soldiers were treated and evacuated timely and effectively.

This month, as AW2 marks five years of service, I look at the needs of our wounded, injured, and ill in a different way.

I see not only the results of modern medicine on the battlefield, I see the way the Army has adapted to provide support for the entire Soldier and equally importantly for his or her Family. We have seen our Soldiers survive injuries that previously would have taken them from us. While our Soldiers may survive, they are left with severe and life-altering injuries and the Army is left with figuring out how to help Soldiers who have given so much find a new normal.

Army Wounded Warrior Program is one way the Army has made a commitment to our severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers and their Families. With this our five-year anniversary, I think about the more than 4,000 severely wounded Soldiers and their Families within our ranks. I think about the more than 100 Soldiers we have helped to stay in uniform and I think about those Soldiers and Families who we work with everyday to find a career or education path that suits them in their future goals.

We are always striving to do better. We rely on you, AW2 Soldiers and Families, to tell us what needs to change and what is working. One venue for doing that is the AW2 Symposium, this year being held in San Antonio, TX. If you want to contribute to making future changes in warrior care for wounded Soldiers and their Families, please consider applying to be a delegate this year at I look forward to meeting with those of you who do attend this year’s Symposium.

I’m honored to be a part of the AW2 Program. I have enjoyed working on a new side of warrior care. Our Soldiers, Families, and Staff constantly inspire me.

Thank you for your service.

COL Jim Rice
Director, Army Wounded Warrior Program

Five Years of Support

This April, the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) marks five years of service to severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers and their Families. I had the opportunity to meet with some of AW2’s Soldiers and their Families at last year’s Symposium in Indianapolis. I look forward to the same opportunity in 2009.

AW2 has a unique mission providing personalized support to the most severely wounded Soldiers and their Families. This is a critical mission in our Army. When Soldiers volunteer to serve we ask them to take a solemn oath to our country. In turn, the Army makes a commitment to Soldiers and Families. It is the solemn and honorable task for those of us here at home to care for our nation’s Soldiers who have raised their hands and sacrificed on behalf of our country.

The Army takes this mission very seriously.

The Army recently aligned warrior care services under one organization, the Warrior Transition Command (WTC). WTC provides Soldiers and Families with unified support from the battlefield to the home front. And now, as commander of the newly formed WTC, I am very proud to have AW2 integrated into our collective efforts, working side by side.

AW2 was the Army’s first program put in place to serve the most severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers—most returning from post-9/11 combat deployments. Over its five years in existence, AW2 has set the standard for care and compassion and its mission will not change under WTC.

The Army has not always gotten it right. The Army has, however, always worked to fix issues and to make improvements.

Soldiers serve our country every day on the front lines. As tough as their battles can be at war often the more difficult battles take place at home for wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers and their Families. It is our mission in Army warrior care to support Soldiers and Families as they heal, recover, and transition to their new normal. I am proud to be a part of this mission.

I look forward to continuing this noble endeavor with AW2, and I am counting on the continued dedication and enthusiasm of all who serve our wounded, ill, and injured heroes.

Thank you for your service.

BG Gary Cheek
Warrior Transition Command

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