By Mr. Paul Boyce (FORSCOM)June 14, 2007
The U.S. Army announced today a series of improvements for wounded Soldiers' medical care and outpatient assistance to prepare them for continued, successful military service or transition to active citizenship - including the national establishment June 15 of Warrior Transition Units at the Army's major installations nationwide.
"As we've said before, the Army takes Soldier inpatient and outpatient care very seriously," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., "and remains firmly committed to returning our Soldiers to productive careers and lives. We have made improvements, but realize there is still work to be done - including work with the complex Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board processes. By no means is everything 'fixed' - but we are aggressively acting on what we can fix now."
The Army continues partnering with the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs on efforts to smooth transition from one organization to another, streamline bureaucracy, and offer education about symptoms and care. The Army Medical Action Plan includes significant current improvements in leadership and services enhancing a Soldier-centric healthcare system. Ten examples of immediate improvements announced today include:
1. Establishing Command and Control. On June 15, U.S. Army Medical Command will consolidate Medical Hold units for active duty Soldiers and Medical Holdover units for Reserve Component Soldiers into single Warrior Transition Units, and assumed command and control of these units. Assigning all Soldiers, regardless of component, under one command, ensures equity in care, leadership and administrative support.
2. Transition Triad. Army Medical Command also established a provisional Warrior Transition Unit command and control structure of active and Reserve personnel that includes a primary care manager, nurse case manager, and a squad leader triad for each Warrior in Transition. The provisional status for these units is the first step to establishing a formal manning or personnel document that reflects these new units and the positions associated with them, and the triad is a new concept that synchronizes the efforts of leadership and clinical support.
3. Increased Priority to Transition Families. The Senior Mission Commander, typically the installation commander, now makes Warrior in Transition facilities and furnishings top priorities for repairs and improvements. The Senior Mission Commanders also conduct monthly town hall meetings for Warriors and their Families, ensuring medical treatment facility, Warrior Transition Units, and garrison commanders and staffs all attend, to collectively understand the issues and assign appropriate responsibility.
4. Placing Greater Focus on Family Support. The Army conducted a meeting in May with leaders, Soldiers, Family Members, and veterans to work issues facing Families of wounded Soldiers and Warriors in Transition. Attendees developed the structure, functions, roles, and responsibilities of a prototype Soldier and Family Assistance Center. These centers were stood up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center, and similar capabilities are being established Army wide.
5. Supporting Families in Transition. Policies now allow for non-family members who provide patient support to wounded Warriors to receive guest lodging. Before this policy change, if a non-medical attendant was not a relative, procedures were not always in place for them to have access to guest housing while they cared for their loved ones. While this may appear to benefit single Soldiers more, it is a policy change that is also being applied to non-medical attendants of married Soldiers.
6. Creating Full Patient Visibility. The Army is improving visibility of patient status through a web-based joint patient-tracking application as well as a patient record and tracking system internal to the Defense Department. From point of injury or illness, the Army leadership will have improved visibility on location, medical status, and progress of Soldiers care.
7. Facilitating the Continuum of Care and Benefits. To ensure a seamless transition between military medical care and in partnership with the VA, Walter Reed co-located the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Associations liaisons with the Warrior Transition Unit case managers to support a continuum of care and benefits.
8. Improving the Medical Evaluation Board Process. Army Medical Command created the MyMEB website on the Army's internal computer system, Army Knowledge Online, allowing warriors to go online and access the status and progress of their Medical Evaluation Board. A limited release of the MyMEB will start June 15 This limited release is designed to solicit feedback from a focus group of injured Soldiers prior to full release.
9. Enhancing Physical Evaluation Board Representation. The Army called 18 Reserve Component lawyers and paralegals to active duty to provide additional legal advocacy for warriors undergoing the Physical Evaluation Board process. These personnel act as legal advocates for Warriors in Transition as they move through the Physical Evaluation Board process.
10. Caring for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Traumatic Brain Injury. The Army plans other major changes as part of this comprehensive Army Medical Action Plan. Next month, the Army will roll out an extensive educational program on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury for all its Soldiers and leaders. This program consists of a standardized presentation commanders will use to inform and educate both Soldiers and leaders. The teaching materials and visual support products are in the final stages of development and are undergoing review by military and civilian health professionals. The Army currently also is developing proposals for establishing Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Centers of Excellence to provide nationwide education and training to Army leaders, clinicians, Soldiers and their Families. Locations have yet to be selected, but will support area coverage of the United States, operating much like the Defense Veterans Brain Injury Centers.
"Our Army is doing everything possible to come to grips with a very challenging and complex issue," Gen Casey said on this subject. "The goal is to educate all Soldiers and leaders on PTSD and TBI so they can recognize, prevent and help Soldiers receive treatment for these debilitative physical and mental health issues, and remove the stigma associated with seeking care. Look, this is not just a medical problem, it is an Army problem, and we are going to do all we can to help our Soldiers."
Continuing improvements under the Army Medical Action Plan support the Army's Warrior Ethos of "I will never leave a fallen comrade" by promoting changes in the Army's system of caring for warriors in transition and establishing long-term solutions for a productive career and life.
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