Family Focus–New Online Tool Aims to Better Inform Wounded Warriors Loved Ones

By LTC (P) Hugh Bair, WTC G-3,5,7 Chief

LTC (P) Hugh Bair announces the launch of a new online resource for Families of wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers.

Over the Fourth of July holiday, I had the opportunity to spend time with my Family at a North Carolina beach. It was great to kick back with my dad and brother and get caught up. As they are both now Veterans, there was much focus on and interest in my new job supporting the Army’s wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and their Families.

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of serving with Soldiers at the tip of the spear. My Family during those missions was often far away back home figuring things out without me. Well, that might be OK for normal circumstances, but I know when things aren’t going well, like when your loved one gets injured in a training accident, diagnosed with a deadly disease, or wounded in a firefight, you should not be figuring things out on your own. You need help.

To that end, the Army worked hard to create a comprehensive support system for our Soldiers Families and loved ones. For our wounded warriors, focusing on the mission at hand—to heal and transition, is clear. Medical appointments, visits with a squad leader, rehabilitation, adaptive sports, career planning. For the Family members however it’s often hard to figure out the Army system, learn the acronyms, or understand their role in the recovery process.

So, it’s my pleasure to launch a new online learning tool exclusively for those who are caring for our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers. The Warrior Transition Command’s new Comprehensive Transition Plan Learning Module for Families walks loved ones through the structure of the Warrior Transition Unit, outlines their role in the seven-stages of the Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP), includes four videos, and provides links to additional resources.

We’ve made this tool accessible online so that a Soldier’s immediate caregiver and extended Family around the world can better understand what they are going through and how to help. As a multi-generational military Family, I know the value of having my loved ones near and supportive of my career goals. The more they know, the more I can focus on the job at hand.

I look forward to hearing from our wounded warrior’s Family members about this new tool through the blog comments feature. Is it helpful? What needs to be added? How can we make it better? I know my own Family is watching to see what we do for our wounded, ill, and injured, and are ready to hold me accountable at our next Family vacation. I want to do them, but more importantly, our wounded warriors, proud.

Wounded Warrior Town Hall at Walter Reed

By Breanna Hockenbury, Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical Command (JTF CapMed) Communications

BG Stephen Jones

BG Steve Jones showed posters with the transition timelines, including when Army warriors from Walter Reed will move to Fort Belvoir and the new Walter Reed.

Wednesday morning I woke up early and instead of going to JTF CapMed I hopped on a bus, headed north on 14th Street, and joined approximately 200 Warriors in Transition and Family members at Walter Reed Warrior Transition Brigade’s morning formation. Sitting together in the Karen Wagner Gym bleachers, we heard from BG Steve Jones, JTF CapMed Deputy Commander, about the National Capital Region Medical Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) transition and the relocation of Army Warriors in Transition to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD or to Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Belvoir, VA, when Walter Reed Army Medical Center closes in August. BG Jones provided some updates on the transition but mainly listened and addressed the questions and concerns from Army Warriors in Transition and their Families.

He explained to us how relocation and room assignments at the new facilities would be decided—medical requirements will be the first deciding factor with case managers, providers, and Service Command and Control assigning each Warrior in Transition to the appropriate facility and room as part of the enhanced discharge planning process. BG Jones also explained that “the ultimate goal is to provide patient and Family-centered care that best supports the healing of all warriors.” Warrior Transition Unit Cadre from Walter Reed will move prior to the Warriors in Transition’s to ensure that the facilities and rooms are ready to provide care.

Warriors in Transition and Families also had a chance to browse posters that displayed photographs of the new facilities to get a sense of where they would be living and receiving care after the transition. BG Jones invited all of the warriors to take tours of the new facilities once they are re-assigned to their new location. BG Jones also stressed that the new facilities are a significant improvement from what is currently available at Walter Reed.

When BG Jones opened up the floor to Warriors in Transition’s questions and concerns, they were primarily interested in parking, child care, and the timeline for moving. Although, at this time, parking at both facilities is competitive, warriors will enjoy the benefit of dedicated warrior parking in convenient locations at clinics and their lodging. Child care services at the new facilities will be similar to what is currently available at Walter Reed today.

At the end of the townhall, BG Jones encouraged warriors to email him personally if they had specific questions about how the transition would affect their Families. For more information about the National Capital Region Medical Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) transition, please visit the JTFCapMed website.

I Am Here. I Am Ready to Help.

By Patty Sands, WTC Stratcom

Those were the words of Chaplain Steinberg of the U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) after the last 2010 quarterly AW2 Community Support Network conference call. The call focused on supporting Families during the recovery of AW2 Soldiers and Veterans and included a panel of guests including COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director; Thomas Webb, WTC Deputy to the Commander; Jeff Cox, AW2 Advocate and social worker; and two AW2 Family members. Many more statements of support were heard at the conclusion of the call by the organizations that participated.

The catalyst for those strong statements came from hearing firsthand the challenges faced by the AW2 Families. AW2 spouses Diana Hume and Lisa Krohnke discussed their personal challenges and future goals, as well as specific ways the AW2 Community Support Network participants could assist to make a difference.

“The war is not over for our Family,” said Hume. “There is never a normal day with PTSD. It has not gotten better and the impact is to the whole Family.”

Krohnke also underscored the need for local support as she and her Family feel very isolated. She gave examples of educational issues with her children and financial concerns.

Hume brought the conversation to a close saying, “I don’t know what I would have done without AW2, but there is so much more to be done.”

The impact of the stories as told by the AW2 Family members was compelling and brought tears to my eyes. Hume and Krohnke both spoke in heartfelt terms that were very powerful. Their stories were different but similar in many respects. Each speaker was eloquent and detailed the challenges they faced and the isolation they felt. Without question, we all were very aware of the level of exhaustion they felt. It was a gift of time that they gave to be with us.

From an overall perspective, the problems are complex and varied. Sadly, we all knew there is no one “band aid” to fix things. COL Gadson said, “The Army and VA cannot do it all. It will take all of us working together to make a difference.”

The goal of this conference call was communicating the needs of Families to the Network organizations and to learn best practices from each other. Several participants explained the specific services they offer and engaged in a conversation about ways to connect with individual Soldiers, Veterans, and Families who can benefit from their support.

Thank you to all participants for the largest conference call turnout.

Warrior Care Month–It’s All About Families

By COL Greg Gadson, AW2 Director

November is an important month for the military. On Veterans Day, we honored all who have defended our country and fought for our freedom. On Thanksgiving, we will express gratitude for the blessings in our lives. And throughout the month, we honor the servicemembers who have become wounded, ill, or injured and their Families as part of Warrior Care Month.

Warrior Care Month is a special time to acknowledge wounded warriors, their Families, and caregivers. This year’s theme, “Army Strong—Family Strong: caring for wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers by supporting their Families and caregivers” reminds us that Families provide a source of stability and strength for every wounded Soldier.

Just like all Army Families, the Families of wounded Soldiers involve a number of different people. It’s every combination of parents, spouses, children, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, and neighbors who do the heavy lifting and support the wounded Soldier. During Warrior Care Month, we honor those who travel to the Soldier’s bedside just as much as we honor those who stay home and keep the Family running – paying the bills, making sure the children get to school. And for most AW2 Families, it’s a long journey that involves surgery after surgery, avoiding the Soldier’s triggers, and learning how to care for the injuries for months, years, after the Soldier leaves the hospital. Loving a wounded Soldier is a whole new way of life.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many AW2 Families and caregivers during my own recovery and now as AW2 Director. I’m always struck by their tenacity and sincerity. To each one of you, I encourage you to keep fighting for your AW2 Soldier, keep holding his/her hand, and keep believing that your Family will come out of these challenges stronger than you ever imagined.

Honoring Families and Caregivers During Warrior Care Month

By CSM Benjamin H. S. Scott, Jr., WTC Command Sergeant Major

WTC Command Sergeant Major Scott

CSM Benjamin Scott Jr. has personally witnessed the substantial positive impact Families and caregivers place on wounded warriors during their recovery and transition.

November is Warrior Care Month, and this year’s theme is “Army Strong–Family Strong: caring for wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers by supporting their Families and caregivers.” 

For Warriors in Transition (WTs), Families and Caregivers provide unparalleled support during a challenging time.  They offer a sense of normalcy, of the familiar.  They’re a shoulder to lean on and often the voice of reason when the WT needs to talk through difficult decisions. 

Before joining WTC, I served at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, where I worked with Soldiers who had just been medevaced from theater.  And I met the spouses, parents, and other caregivers who had just flown halfway around the world, often on a red-eye flight, fearing the worst, leaving their children with relatives or friends.  As I watched them, I saw the strength they mustered to encourage their Soldiers–a deep, enduring sense of fortitude that many of them didn’t know they had. 

At WTUs, Families and caregivers continue to play an integral role in each WT’s recovery.  You attend medical appointments, keep your WT on schedule, and participate in CTP scrimmages.  And you make incredible sacrifices–sometimes living away from the rest of your Families and putting your own careers on hold.  And for all you do to take care of your Soldier, you must take care of yourselves, too.  Please utilize the resources available to you, the counseling services, the administrative resources at the SFAC, and all of the other programs the Army has in place.  Speak up to your WT’s Squad Leader if there’s something you need.

I also want to speak to the children of WTs.  I know this can be scary and challenging, when your parent is hurt.  You’ve probably got a lot of questions and wonder when your life will get back to normal.  These reactions are completely understandable, and I hope you’ll ask your questions and tell your parents how you feel.  I also encourage you to embrace your Family’s “new normal” – life may be somewhat different than before your mom or dad was injured, but things will get better, and your Family will keep moving forward.

To all the Families and caregivers, I won’t say I know what you’re going through, because I don’t.  But I do know that you’re standing tall when you feel like your world is falling apart.  YOU are the unsung heroes of today’s conflicts.  The Army, the nation can never fully repay you for your sacrifices.  The Army understands that the strength of the Soldier starts with the Family, and that may never be more apparent than when the Soldier is injured.  During Warrior Care Month, and throughout the year, I commend you for all you do.

Extended FMLA for Federal Employees to Care for Wounded Warriors

By Sarah Greer, STRATCOM

Did you know that federal employees have the right to extend their Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits to care for a military Family member who becomes seriously ill or injured in the line of duty?

Standard FMLA benefits offer employees of most organizations the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks per year for personal illness or to care for an ill or injured immediate Family member, such as a parent, spouse, child, or sibling. After taking FMLA leave, employees may return to the same position or to a position with “equivalent benefits, pay, status, and other terms and conditions of employment.” This is an excellent benefit for AW2 Families, and it demonstrates the American public’s commitment to wounded warriors who have sacrificed so much.

Last fall, Congress extended FMLA benefits to 26 weeks (approximately 6 months) for federal employees caring for military Family members. This also applies to federal employees caring for Veterans undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy for a serious injury or illness sustained on Active Duty within five years of the treatment.

Extended FMLA leave to care for seriously ill or injured servicemembers applies only to federal employees and cannot be combined with other FMLA leave, such as childbirth or caring for another Family member. Federal employees may use annual or sick leave to cover this time, and they only need to take unpaid leave if they run out. However, it offers peace of mind for Family members to know that their job is waiting for them while they stand by their wounded warriors.

OPM Director John Berry’s guidance on these extended FMLA benefits can help answer more questions, and AW2 Family members should talk to their AW2 Advocates for more information on their personal situation.

Grants Available from Our Military Kids

By Mary Carolyn Voght, Guest Blogger from Our Military Kids

For some military children, the stress and anxiety caused by a parent’s deployment do not end once their father or mother has returned home.  Children of injured servicemembers face new challenges that come with learning to adapt to physical, mental, and emotional changes in a loved one.  Our Military Kids, a non-profit based in Washington, DC, is a member of the AW2 Community Support Network and provides grants to children of injured servicemembers for extracurricular activities.  The grants help these children cope with the strain of having a parent recovering from physical and/or mental wounds by getting them involved in a sports, fine arts, or academic tutoring program.

Since January 2009, Our Military Kids has awarded over 200 grants to Families of the severely injured in 32 states across the country, including one Family from Indiana with six children.

“You cannot believe the difference this makes for my Family,” the mother told Our Military Kids. Her children received grants for gymnastics, music lessons, martial arts, and tutoring. “There is no way we could have afforded all of these activities without the grants, particularly with their father still recovering in the hospital.”

Children of severely injured servicemembers are eligible for a grant covering up to $500 of an activity.  To apply, Families must submit the following documentation:

  1. Completed application form
  2. Servicemember’s most recent military orders (even if they are retired)
  3. Form of ID for the child (birth certificate or military ID)
  4. Brochure or flyer documenting the cost of the activity
  5. Letter from the servicemember’s case manager certifying that they are injured as a result of being deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom

Our Military Kids processes applications within a week to ten days.  Once a grant has been approved, the check is mailed directly to the organization providing the activity and an award packet is mailed to the Family.

In addition to receiving a letter, certificate and patch with their grant, children of injured service members also receive a special reMIND dog tag and ring provided by the Bob Woodruff Foundation.  The rings and dog tags help raise awareness about war injuries that cannot be seen, and their prevalence shows that many Americans want to support and honor all of our wounded warriors.

Our Military Kids is pleased to recognize injured military personnel and their Families for their service to our nation.  Helping these children to participate in an extracurricular activity of their choice is a small way of saying thank you to those who are sacrificing so much for our country.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

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