By Lori Newman, Fort Sam Houston Public Affairs OfficeJune 18, 2009
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - Lt. Col. Scott Svabek, commander, U.S. Army Medical Command Health Care Acquisition Activity at Fort Sam Houston made a commitment to help wounded warriors with their rehabilitation by providing them a place to work and possibly learn a new profession as part of their recovery process.
"Contracting or acquisition is an office setting that can accommodate the warrior's skills and physical capabilities as well as flexibility to allow time for their medical appointments," said Svabek.
HCAA primarily awards and administrates contracts for a variety of direct and support medical services, as well as medical equipment and supplies in support of the hospitals and clinics of U.S. Army.
"The intent of the program is as wounded warriors heal and get ready for their medical boards, whether they stay in the service or medically retire, they are learning a new profession. The federal procurement process is transferrable to basically any federal or state government job," Svabek said.
If the Soldiers want to re-classify and stay in the Army, and they have their educational requirement met, they can crossover to the 51C, military occupational specialty. If they are medically discharged, they can carry the skills learned into government service in the 1102 career field or private industry, he said.
Staff Sgt. Manuel "Manny" Figueroa Jr. was the first Warrior in Transition to come on board at HCAA in September 2008.
"I'm here maybe three or four hours a day; but that's three or four hours I'm not sitting at home contemplating 'what ifs'," said Figueroa.
He says his co-workers have been really supportive and helpful.
"The people that truly benefit from the contracts we write, we never see them. ... By having Manny here, he is a benefactor of those contracts," said Figueroa's supervisor Ned Stephens Jr., chief, Center for Health Care Contracting.
He added, "It's not just passing documents from one place to another. The document now has a face on it. For a lot of my staff that face is Manny."
The staff is truly concerned about Manny, if he is not in the office for a day or two the whole staff inquires about him.
"His presence is twofold, it benefits him from a learning standpoint in a career field that is grossly under resourced and he's a benefactor of what we do," said Stephens.
The second wounded warrior to join the activity was Spc. Tim Mithofer.
Mithofer suffered a fractured hip and hearing loss when his convoy was hit in Iraq. He is currently undergoing the Medical Evaluation Board process.
"It's been outstanding working here, the personnel are extremely supportive. It's a high need area and there is a lot of work to be done," Mithofer said.
HACC functions as headquarters for six different regional contracting offices and the Center for Health Care Contracting so there is a tremendous amount of need for people to come in and learn the process of procurement and acquisitions.
His goal is to transition into the HCAA as an analyst. He is currently working on his level one certification to be a contract administrator.
"We have a real gem when it comes to Spc. Mithofer. He comes with a lot of experience from the commercial world; he's used to dealing with grants. He is familiar with reading contractual-type documents. He is a very eager learner. I am just delighted to have him working here," said Joyce Nadeau, chief, Policy and Compliance Branch at HCAA and Mithofers' supervisor.
Mithofer often reads contracting documents to make sure they are clear to the reader, providing a new prospective.
"He gives us a good sanity check on the documents we review, because when you are used to doing it all the time sometimes you can't see the forest because of the trees," said Nadeau.
Lt. Roger Garcia a reservist from Kansas started working at HCAA a few weeks ago.
Garcia suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in Iraq. A neurologist told Garcia he was having problems with processing information because of TBI. Working at HCAA helps him work on developing his processing skills.
"I need something to challenge and stimulate my brain," said Garcia. "I can't just sit around and wait for my next (medical) appointment."
Garcia works on special projects, provides office support and is currently taking the online classes that interns for HCAA would normally take.
"It hasn't been easy because it's blazing new territory," Svabek said.
Some of the challenges they are facing, is gaining computer access, logging onto the HCAA network and getting enrollment into the Defense Acquisition courses. Also because of the heavy workload and fast pace within HCAA, it is sometimes difficult for employees to help train the wounded warriors.
"We had to work through the bureaucratic clanks," he said.
The Soldier's Warrior in Transition Unit squad leader provides HCAA with weekly updates regarding their schedule of medical appointments and responsibilities within the WTU.
The wounded warriors' day usually starts at the HCAA rather than going to formation. However, they are expected to call their squad leader daily.
"There has to be a level of trust between the wounded warrior, the squad leader and us," Svabek said. "The squad leader is ultimately responsible for that Soldier."
"It gives the command at the WTB a place to employ (the Soldier) as part of their rehabilitation, it gives us a chance to train them, and it also lessens our workload," said Svabek.
"Once rehabilitation and other medically related appointments are no longer taking up the majority of the day, we begin meeting with the warriors to help them decide which direction they will transition towards, either to the military or civilian community," said Sheri Michel, occupational therapist, WTB. "We discuss their skills and interests in an effort to match their abilities with interim placement opportunities that, in many cases, could help prepare them to move into full-time positions."