By Gerry J. GilmoreJune 27, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 27, 2007) - The Army's three-month-old "Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline," established March 19, has already fielded thousands of calls from Soldiers and concerned Family members, officials said here June 25.
The hotline was created by the Army's senior leadership in the wake of a series of news reports in February that revealed shortcomings in patient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
The hotline center is managed and operated by U.S. Army Human Resources Command, said Col. Edward Mason, the hotline's director.
"The Army cares about Soldiers and Families, and we're going to take care of Soldiers and Families," Col. Mason said. "We're going to ensure that those Soldiers and Family members have every single medical resource available in the United States Army."
Fifty-two percent of almost 1,000 issues generated by nearly 3,500 calls received by the hotline since its inception have involved medical issues, Col. Mason said. The issues are broken down into medical, finance, legal, and other categories, he said.
"One phone call could have no issues or one phone call could have five issues," Col. Mason explained. The ones without issues usually are just requests for information, he added, such as phone numbers for other organizations.
Military veterans have raised 28 percent of the issues on the hotline, Col. Mason said, noting the veterans have been happy to receive call-backs from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials.
The hotline's purpose isn't to circumvent the chain of command, said call center deputy director Col. Robert Clark. However, the hotline reflects the Army's determination to address and resolve Soldiers' medical issues as rapidly as possible, he said.
Some hotline calls come from frustrated people who need someone to listen to their concerns, Col. Clark said, noting there are "individuals out there who maybe didn't get quite what they deserved."
"And, by calling us, we're going to make sure that they do," Col. Clark emphasized. Providing follow-up on customers' inquiries is a key component of the hotline's mission, he said.
The hotline operation recently gained new office space in Alexandria, Va., and updated equipment, said call-center manager Jimmie Cotton.
"I love these facilities; there's a lot more open space," said Mr. Cotton, who has worked at the hotline operation since April. He said the Soldiers, government civilians and contractors who make up the center's 100-person staff work three shifts to provide around-the-clock service.
Vanessa Bradchulis, one of the hotline's customer care representatives, is a 30-year-old former Army medic and an Iraq war veteran. Ms. Bradchulis said she often receives calls from fathers or mothers inquiring about the medical status of their wounded sons or daughters.
"My medical experience has come in handy," said Ms. Bradchulis, a contractor at the center who served in Iraq in 2003. A Soldiers' mother called her, she recalled, asking about her son, who'd been wounded in Iraq and was being treated at an Army hospital in Germany.
"She was trying to get in touch with the proper medical authorities," Ms. Bradchulis said, noting the mother just wanted to speak to a doctor to determine just how her son was doing.
"We put her in touch with the people who could find that out for her," Ms. Bradchulis said.
The Army's Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline can be accessed at (800) 984-8523.
(Gerry J. Gilmore writes for the American Forces Press Service.)