By Kristen NoelDecember 14, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 14, 2007) - There's no set limit on how long the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior program will provide one-on-one service to severely wounded Soldiers and their Families, a U.S. Army official said Wednesday.
"We assist and advocate for severely wounded Soldiers and their Families for as long as they need us, wherever they are located," Army Col. James Rice, the Wounded Warrior program's director, said in a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers."
The Wounded Warrior program is for Soldiers who are considered 30 percent or more disabled, as found by the Army disability system, to ensure their Families receive all the benefits and support they are entitled to, Col. Rice explained.
The 30-percent threshold is based on the level of disability rating above which Soldiers and their Families can maintain the Tricare retirement benefit, he said.
Almost 2,400 injured Soldiers are enrolled in the program. Each is assigned a Soldier-Family management specialist - the equivalent of a case manager - "who gives them personalized recovery assistance in navigating government and nonprofit organizations on their behalf to ensure they get the help and support their families need," Col. Rice said.
"We make the connection as soon as that Soldier arrives at a treatment facility, and our Soldier-Family management specialist - our care manager - establishes a relationship with that Soldier and Family that continues as long as it takes," he explained.
Support continues even after the Soldier leaves the hospital and either continues on active duty or departs the service. "We're still with them to help them through vocational rehabilitation, through the education process and ensuring that they are fully employed to the greatest extent possible so that they're integral members of their community," he said.
The program's staff of about 100 includes Soldier-Family management specialists who are dispersed throughout the United States to accommodate Soldiers and Families in person. "Wherever there is a significant population of wounded warriors, we have a Soldier-Family management specialist on the ground," Col. Rice said.
This decentralization of the Wounded Warrior program is its most significant change in recent years, according to Col. Rice.
The program has existed since 2004, initially under the name "Disabled Soldiers Support System," and historically only provided support from its headquarters in Alexandria, Va., Col. Rice explained.
He added that the Wounded Warrior program is part of a larger Army initiative focused on providing more comprehensive medical services to Soldiers and their Families.
"We are in the forefront of an important transformation that is building the health care model for the future for the military's wounded warriors," he said.
(Kristen Noel writes for the American Forces Press Service.)