WTC Exhibit Offers a Unique Perspective for Army Warrior Care

By Tim Poch, WTC Stratcom

As a representative of the Warrior Transition Command (WTC) who attended the 2011 Military Health System Conference at the Gaylord National Hotel in Washington, D.C last week, I had the pleasure of offering a unique perspective to the other exhibitors. On a giant flat screen monitor, WTC shared a video of Soldiers bumping, setting, and spiking a volleyball. As the camera panned below the Soldiers’ chests, viewers learn that the players are wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers sitting on the floor in an intense game of sitting volleyball.

For most of us a volleyball game would be a great way to get together and blow off some steam, but for these Soldiers the game has an added dimension of determination, resilience, and courage.  In short, this looping video revealed to the conference attendees the heart of the WTC message for Army warrior care–Soldier success through focused commitment.

Army medicine is state-of-the-art and a leader among civilian and military medical organizations worldwide. The goal of WTC is to create policies that work in conjunction with Army medicine to assist Soldiers in accomplishing their mission of healing and transition. In order to maintain the structure, military character, and goal-oriented behavior that drive Soldiers to succeed, Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) are now using a process called the CTP (Comprehensive Transition Plan). Using the CTP, each Warrior in Transition (WT), with the aid of their WTU cadre, develops a systematic and comprehensive plan outlining physical, career, emotional, social, family, and spiritual goals to aid their return to the force or successful transition to the civilian community.  

One way the Army aids WTs in the goal-setting process and helps them achieve success is through adaptive sports. These programs provide tangible physical results and help speed healing while improving wounded warrior health. The highlight of Army adaptive sports is the annual Warrior Games that features seven sports and over 200 wounded, ill, and injured athletes from all branches of service. Several WTU personnel stopped by the booth and asked for information about participating in this year’s games.

As Army warrior care develops into a fully integrated process to assist Soldiers in their mission to heal and transition, we fully expect interest and questions from the members of the Military Health System. The Warrior Transition Command is ready to provide answers and information to wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, their Families, Army leaders, military health professionals, and the public as it continues to support to the Army’s wounded warrior community.

Working Together Makes a Difference

BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

I had an opportunity yesterday to present the Army’s warrior care story to a dozen Veteran service organizations (VSOs) such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America. I was the guest of Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of Force Health Protection. Although I covered the nuts and bolts of how the Warrior Transition Command and Army Wounded Warrior Program operate, it’s hard to truly summarize what we do and the impact we have on helping wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers move forward.

I think the key to what we have done is that we understand that every Soldier we work with is a unique individual with distinct challenges—and so we created a uniform system with flexibility. We exist to help Soldiers chart their own path forward to a rich future and provide assistance in their following of a Comprehensive Transition Plan based on their goals.

In my discussions with the VSOs, I emphasized that this is a team effort between the Soldier, WTC, MEDCOM, VA, VSOs, and other organizations such as the USOC Paralympics. I also demonstrated what our team effort can accomplish by sharing the inspiring stories of a few of our Soldiers who have continued to serve after injury, including CPT Scott Smiley, who is blind. Knowing we’ve made a difference validates everyone’s hard work and commitment.

Wounded Warrior Urges WTU Leaders to Focus on Soldier’s Abilities

BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week at the WTC Winter Conference we have been focused on Comprehensive Transition Plans (CTPs) and how they will help our Soldiers and their Families. Lonnie Moore, WTC Career and Employment Branch Program Analyst, brought home the importance of having a plan in his speech “Disability to Ability.” You see, Lonnie is a wounded warrior and he has firsthand knowledge and experience in why setting measurable, attainable, and time-driven goals is so important.

Lonnie told us how when he was wounded in 2004, he felt he had lost his identity as a Soldier and was so ashamed of his amputation that he did not want his young son to see him. In short he felt labeled, as if people would only see his disability and not his ability. Through the support of his Family, peer support from a Vietnam Veteran, and involvement in adaptive sports he began to make positive changes towards transition and reintegration into a new life.

It was not an overnight transition or all sunshine and roses. Eight months after being injured, and admittedly in a low period in his life, Lonnie was invited by a non-profit organization to an adaptive skiing event in Breckenridge, CO. As he told it, he skied down the mountain twice, falling several times, and thinking he just couldn’t do this. But each time, he went back to the top and started over again. On the third run down the mountain—he didn’t fall. For the first time since his injury he felt he could do anything he put his mind to.

Nine months post-injury, Lonnie had some hard decisions to make, and a trip to an adaptive sports clinic helped him realize it was time to start setting goals and moving forward. He was a third generation Army Soldier, who had planned on an Army career that would culminate in becoming a Battalion Commander, but he made the tough decision to transition to the civilian world. He sat down and created his own CTP, he set measurable and attainable goals, and put his transition on a timeline.

Lonnie believes that we can use the CTP to “train” Soldiers to prepare for transition, and so do I. He exhorted the attendees at this week’s conference to “look at abilities and not disabilities” to make this process work for all of our Soldiers, and I think that’s excellent advice.

WTC Staff and Cadre Wrap Up WTC Conference

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

BG Gary Cheek and COL Brian Lein, FORSCOM, discuss the importance of caring for Medically Not Ready Soldiers with WTC staff and cadre.

BG Gary Cheek and COL Brian Lein, FORSCOM, discuss the importance of caring for Medically Not Ready Soldiers with WTC staff and cadre.

We have had a productive week in Florida, and we’ve made great strides in preparing the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) to launch at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) across the country. We have gotten very productive feedback on ways to streamline and improve the CTP from Company Commanders, Squad Leaders, Nurse Case Managers, Primary Care Managers, Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC) Directors, and other essential members of the WTC staff and cadre. Now, we will take those valuable suggestions back and improve the CTP for the benefit of all Warriors in Transition (WTs).

This morning, COL Brian Lein, Command Surgeon of Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), gave us all an important perspective as we move forward with the Warrior Care and Transition Program (WCTP). COL Lein previously spent two years as the Commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he supervised the medical treatment of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airman recently injured on the battlefield. Today, many of those Soldiers are recovering in WTUs.

“WCTP is a strategic imperative,” said COL Lein. “It is critical that we maintain this program to ensure the well-being of our Soldiers and Families in order to preserve an all-volunteer force. Senior FORSCOM Commanders have expressed nothing but gratitude for the way WTUs operate and for the collaboration between them and WTU Commanders.”

COL Lein encouraged all of us to continue to examine the best way to care for Medically Not Ready (MNR) Soldiers, and he particularly emphasized that the WTU Company Commanders should engage with Commanders throughout their installations to make them aware of the services available through WTUs and the more accessible WTU admission procedures. I couldn’t agree more—WTUs are here to help all WTs through their recovery and return to active duty or transition as proud, productive Veterans.

As we move forward, I will keep WTC staff and cadre informed of the improvements to the CTP and continue to emphasize that WTs and their Families need to actively embrace this valuable tool so they can set and achieve measurable goals and move forward with their lives.

LTG Ricky Lynch Emphasizes IMCOM’s Support for CTP

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

LTG Ricky Lynch, Commanding General of Army Installation Management Command, discusses the importance of CTP at WTC Winter Conference.

LTG Ricky Lynch, Commanding General of Army Installation Management Command, discusses the importance of CTP at WTC Winter Conference.

I appreciated LTG Ricky Lynch, Commanding General of Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM), joining the WTC Winter Conference to demonstrate IMCOM’s support for the CTP.

Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) exist at Medical Treatment Facilities (MTFs) on installations around the country, and WTUs require facilities, personnel, and resources support from installations to provide the best possible service to Warriors in Transition (WTs). This morning, LTG Lynch assured WTC staff and cadre that they will have the full support of installation Commanders in this important mission and encouraged them to collaborate closely with their installation Commanders.

“At IMCOM, we work hard on leadership development to ensure that Commanders understand the issues affecting WTs,” said LTG Lynch. “Senior installation Commanders should be engaged with warrior care so they can work with their leadership to ensure that we’re doing the right thing and that we’re doing things right. Our Soldiers and their Families deserve the very best.”

Effective warrior care requires coordination and commitment from everyone who interacts with the WT. The CTP, as an automated tool, will help consolidate coordination efforts and give cadre, company Commanders, and even installation Commanders visibility on both the overall trends and individual issues of warrior care at each installation. I am confident that this tool will help leaders across installations and throughout the Army work together to better serve each individual WT.

LTG Schoomaker Reinforces Importance of CTP

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

LTG Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General, commends SFC Derrick Brown for instituting monthly Purple Heart ceremonies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

LTG Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General, commends SFC Derrick Brown for instituting monthly Purple Heart ceremonies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Today, I was proud to host LTG Eric Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) at the WTC Winter Conference, and I was grateful that he took the time to travel to Florida to accentuate the importance of the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) to WTC staff and cadre.

LTG Schoomaker summoned SFC Derrick Brown to the stage and told staff and cadre about SGT Brown’s efforts to institute monthly Purple Heart ceremonies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he serves at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center. Then, LTG Schoomaker asked SFC Brown to lead the Army song, demonstrating his incredible voice. The crowd leapt to its feet and proudly belted their loyalty to the Army. When we finished singing, LTG Schoomaker emphasized that warrior care is truly an example of “the Army rolling along.” “Soldiers need to know that we as a nation are prepared to put them back on their feet literally and figuratively after they’ve walked through the most dangerous neighborhoods and flown over the most treacherous valleys,” he said. “That confidence is necessary for the effective defense of our nation.”

I appreciated LTG Schoomaker’s reminder of the important role cadre play in an individual Soldier’s recovery:

“It is critical that the Squad Leader, Nurse Case Manager, and Primary Care Manager meet as a team and support the Soldier and Family,” he said. “The CTP is not just a widget; it’s a program that embraces the Soldier and Family throughout recovery. Cadre cannot just sit down in a cubicle and check a box—they need to be out seeing their Soldiers while they’re working out and moving around in the hospital. This is an intense engagement with Soldiers and Families on a regular and recurring basis.”

I particularly enjoyed one story LTG Schoomaker told about two Soldiers injured in the Vietnam War who were sent to the same Army hospital for treatment. The two Soldiers set the same goal: they wanted to eventually serve in Congress and challenged each other to accomplish it. When Daniel Inouye of Hawaii got to the House of Representatives first, he called his friend Bob Dole and asked how much longer it would take him to get elected from Kansas. Both gentlemen served our country in the House and went on to serve in the United States Senate. They could have chosen to be defeated by their injuries, but instead, they focused on their abilities and their long-term goals, and went on to achieve great things. Both men have spoken about the “tough love” they received from Army nurses who embraced their goals and encouraged them to think about their abilities and what they wanted to do with their lives.

For today’s Warriors in Transition (WT), the CTP will help formalize the supportive role these nurses and all the many gifted and dedicated members of the Army Medical team play and ensure that this support and the Soldiers’ goals are documented and developed into achievable action items so all WTs can fulfill their potential.

WTC Winter Conference Focuses on Comprehensive Transition Plan

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

This week, more than 400 WTC staff and cadre are gathered in Florida for the WTC Winter Conference to roll up our sleeves and work out the details of the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) for Warriors in Transition (WTs) throughout the Army. Input from so many Commanders and staff stationed at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) throughout the country will help ensure that the tool addresses the full spectrum of the WT population.

This morning, we opened the conference with a video from Army Secretary John McHugh, who reminded all attendees that the Command’s work is “critically important—your work is to the long-term health of the Army” and “vital to our national security.”

During my tenure at WTC, I have visited WTs and their Families at many of the Army’s Medical Treatment Facilities, and I agree with Secretary McHugh’s assessment that “a warrior in the field is the same man or woman as the warrior recovering in the hospital.” Many of these Soldiers never envisioned themselves as someone who would sustain life-changing injuries.

The CTP will help WTs through their transition toward a more meaningful future by setting goals that emphasize ability over disability. The Army has a responsibility to return strong Soldiers to Active Duty and to transition proud, productive Veterans back to society. The CTP will help WTs actively work toward the goals that are right for them, whether attending an Army school, pursuing a college degree, or developing a specific skill. It will also help them achieve goals that are good for their Families. This week, WTC staff and cadre will work through specific details to make the CTP a valuable tool for all WTs.

I’m excited to get to work on this important endeavor, and I encourage you to watch Secretary McHugh’s video message about the mission of this conference.

Command Focused on Transition during Warrior Care Month

By Pat Mackin, WTC Stratcom

The Army designated November 2009 as Warrior Care Month, an effort led by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) to inform wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families about the transition assistance programs available to them during and after their assignment to one of the Army’s Warrior Transition Units (WTUs).

Throughout November, WTUs around the Army, as well as the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocates located across the United States, conducted a variety of local activities, such as job fairs and education seminars, to motivate wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families to take advantage of opportunities that promote a successful transition back to duty or into civilian life as a productive Veteran. The theme of the Army’s Warrior Care Month is “setting goals, achieving success.”

“Over the past two years, we’ve made tremendous progress in improving outpatient care management for our Soldiers,” said BG Gary Cheek, WTC commander. “We’re now really focusing in on setting Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families up for success as they transition into the next phase of their life.”

Much of the improvement in Army outpatient care is a result of the establishment of the WTUs on Army posts and in civilian communities around the country. The units provide a dedicated military chain of command, primary care managers, and nurse case managers to Soldiers who have complex injuries or illnesses, and need at least six months of rehabilitative care.

The Army is now focusing on the transition aspects of warrior care, which BG Cheek said, “emphasize capabilities, not disabilities, of transitioning warriors.”

WTC, which became fully operational on October 1, was established specifically to serve as the Army’s policy integrator for the Warrior Care and Transition Program, to include standardizing and optimizing WTU and AW2 operations. The command’s emphasis on transition has led to the implementation of a Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) for each Soldier assigned to a WTU. The plan, which is developed by the Soldier in consultation with his or her Family, unit leaders, and health professionals, is designed to be a roadmap for recovery and transition, with personal and professional milestones, such as passing a physical fitness test, taking college courses, or participating in internships and job training.

“The Comprehensive Transition Plan helps Soldiers and Families emerge from their treatment and rehabilitation with additional skills and a positive attitude to continue to contribute — either in uniform or in the civilian workforce,” said BG Cheek.

Another key aspect of the Army’s Warrior Care is the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) process, which determines whether a Soldier’s injury or illness will allow continued military service. The Army is currently implementing a series of recommendations outlined in a study conducted by retired GEN Frederick Franks Jr. that will help create “a simpler, more transparent, and less adversarial disability evaluation system,” and will result in a greater number of Soldiers being able to continue to serve in uniform.

The Army will also continue to take part in the Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES) Pilot program, a joint Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs effort that is successfully streamlining and expediting disability evaluations and removing duplicative evaluation processes. The PDES Pilot has been implemented at 10 Army posts, and will be expanded to five more in the coming months.

For more information on the events that the WTC and AW2 held for the Army’s Warrior Care Month, click here to visit the AW2 Blog.

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