Conference kicks off for wounded Soldiers on active duty
January 25, 2011
Alexandria, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 25, 2011) -- The Army Wounded Warrior Program Continuation on Active Duty/Continuation on Active Reserve Forum began today and focused on improving care for Soldiers deemed medically unfit for service, yet wanting to continue to serve, and will result in presenting recommendations to Army senior leaders.
The conference is enlisting the help of 30 severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers to suggest possible changes based off their experiences.
"Of course there's always room for improvement," said Col. Greg Gadson, director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program, or AW2, a double-amputee himself. "What we're trying to do is to give this population a voice, and bring them together to ask them for their feedback on how we can make the program better."
There has been a 23-percent increase in wounded Soldiers who participate in Continuation on Active Duty, or COAD, since 2008.
"Personally, it's very important to me," Gadson said of COAD. "I'm very grateful that the Army has a formal program like this that allows those who want to continue to serve the possibility to. And I want to make it better."
The 30 delegates will be broken up into groups to discuss the issues wounded Soldiers face while returning to active duty and they will prioritize potential changes.
"What identifies us all and makes us equal is that we've been found medically unfit for service," Gadson, a COAD Soldier himself, said.
Currently, there are about 250 Soldiers on COAD/COAR status in the Army.
"I think it's a great idea that just targets the COADS," said Sgt. 1st Class Jarrett Jongema, an air defense enlisted branch senior career advisor, about the conference. "They didn't really know how to deal with polytrauma when I got injured in 2004. If you weren't a burn victim or you weren't an amputee, they wanted to get you out of the hospital as soon as you were stable."
Jongema, who was seriously injured when a vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device crashed head-on with his vehicle in Iraq, said care for wounded warriors has improved dramatically. Jongema sustained several bullet and shrapnel wounds, and razor wire tore off much of his face. He had to be resuscitated at least seven times before reaching medical help in Germany, he said.
"There were so many holes in me that they really couldn't tell what was shrapnel, what was gunfire, and what was glass. My lungs and heart were so messed up," Jongema said.
Once in the United States, Jongema received care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was put into a medically-induced coma. When he came to and began to recover, Jongema was sent home and placed on convalescent leave to find his own way to medical appointments.
"That will not happen ever again," he said of his swift discharge.
However, Jongema, who manages nearly 9,000 Soldiers' careers, is waiting for the results of his Medical Evaluation Board and plans on being deemed unfit for duty. He also plans on submitting a packet for COAD.
"I'm not ready to quit, and I love wearing the uniform," Jongema said of his decision to go on serving.
Jongema said surviving through his catastrophic injuries made him evaluate why he's still alive. He lists helping his son through treatments for Hodgkin's lymphoma as his top priority, and adds that his experiences have given him a voice and a platform to help other Soldiers.
The forum will run through Jan. 27, when the delegates will recommend solutions to issues in human resources, installations, medical care, training, and veteran affairs, to the vice chief of staff of the Army and other leaders.