By Amy PerryFebruary 19, 2009
"Warrior Transition Unit Mission: Provide command and control, primary care and case management for Warriors in Transition to establish the conditions for their healing and to promote their timely return to the force or transition to a productive civilian life."
Attention and focus on wounded warriors got a name in February 2007 when the Army issued the directive establishing the Warrior in Transition program. The first warrior transition brigade was established at Walter Reed Medical Center in April 2007.
Just a few months later, Fort Lee became a home to these Warriors in Transition when Kenner Army Health Clinic activated a unit. Five personnel from Kenner stood up the Fort Lee Warrior Transition Unit, where in the infancy of this Army program, there were 25 wounded warriors assigned to the unit.
The Fort Lee WTU soon gained a command team (a commander and first sergeant), moved to its current facility and officially activated in February 2008.
The unit has grown to 54 wounded warriors and has a much larger staff to provide care and support. This includes four nurse case managers, two primary care managers and a support staff including two human resource technicians, a training coordinator, a social worker, a financial advisor, a Family Readiness Support Assistant and a contract representative among others. Also, the Army Community Service supports wounded warriors with a Soldier and Family Assistance Center that has a staff of four who assist the Soldier and their Family as a whole.
The Fort Lee WTU has been proactive to increase support for its wounded warriors, said Col. Donna Diamond, KAHC commander. For example, the Army mandates a 20-1 ratio for wounded warriors to nurse case managers. Fort Lee boasts four nurse case managers for 54 Soldiers to ensure proper care of each warrior. Also, although the Army standard for WTU PCMs is 200-1, Fort Lee has two doctors to care for its warriors. Diamond also noted that a licensed practicing nurse will join the team in February who will be dedicated to WTU Soldiers.
"It's an evolving program," said Diamond. "This type of rehabilitation support had never been done before. As things come about and we go through the process, we recognize we need this or we need that or we need to change this or we need to change that. We feel we've adjusted accordingly."
While the WTU mission focuses on healing, it also covers another important aspect of a wounded warrior's recovery: their personal life. The Army has committed itself to caring for wounded warriors through a holistic view, not just a medical view, said Diamond.
"It's the healing and preparing for what their ultimate goal is ... whether it's to transition back to their previous (military occupation specialty), or to a different one. It's about looking at those options because they want to stay in the Army longer or to look at returning to civilian life and what they want to do in that capacity," she said.
The unit works with the warrior from day one to ensure they know the basics of the WTU functions. They work on the Soldiers' mission of healing and personal development, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Liggon, WTU executive officer.
"We at the company level try to help them achieve their personal goal. Does the Soldier want to stay in the Army' Do they want to heal and return to duty, or heal and move on to the civilian life' That's important to know when they come to the WTU because we can assist them through our different agencies," he said. "We can send them to the agencies right away to start the process."
On the other side, the Soldier has another goal: the comprehensive care plan that is managed by the nurse case managers," he continued.
"The nurses sit down with each individual and guide them down the path medically (to recovery). This helps the Soldier know when they have appointments and why they are going to particular doctors. That's part of how we manage the healing process."
Capt. Sharlene Fuller took command of the Fort Lee WTU in late December 2008. During her first few months in command, she realized the importance of communication between the leadership, cadre, support staff and the wounded warriors.
A few of the initiatives she has created include holding special weekly formations with the warriors where only the commander and first sergeant are in attendance and placing issue sheets in various locations on Fort Lee allows the Soldiers to list their issues to ensure they go directly to the WTU commander. Fuller has already received feedback from the field with these methods. By improving the channels of communication, the goal is to provide the Soldiers with all the information they need and the opportunity to resolve any issue that may arise during their time with the WTU.
The Fort Lee WTU also has weekly meetings attended by doctors, nurses, squad leaders and the ombudsman to talk about each individual Soldier and their medical conditions, said Liggon.
"The most important part is showing that we are there for the Soldiers," said Diamond. "The cadre that are here want to be here. We haven't had a changeover for cadre, other than for PCS or illness - we almost have all the original cadre on board, and none have expressed a need to leave. They enjoy doing what they are doing and feeling that they are making a difference with the Soldier. It's a big team effort to make sure we're meeting the mission and providing the best care possible."
Army Community Service also provides assistance to the Warrior Transition Unit through the SFAC. This is a one-stop resource agency that provides services for the Soldiers, said Kimberly Evans, SFAC director. It ensures the wounded warriors and their Families have access to the programs and information they need.
"Our mission is to provide an environment that is supportive for Soldiers and Families to deal with stress, uncertainty with their injury and the effects of the war," said Evans. "We try to focus a lot on Families and helping them. Not only is the Soldier going through transition, but the Family is going through a transition as well."
While the WTU program is relatively new and suffers the occasional growing pain, Fort Lee leadership continues to address the concerns of its Soldiers.
"Issues are usually personal and tailored to the individual," Diamond continued. "We address those on a one-on-one basis. We know everyone won't be happy. Just like out in the civilian population, there will always be issues that arise and people will voice their concerns. Sometimes it has to do with realizing that some things will never fully return to the way they were before. So helping people with how they transition and smoothing the transition is key."