By Elizabeth M. Collins, Soldiers LiveOctober 25, 2012
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 25, 2012) -- To date, the Warrior Transition Command has cared for some 45,000 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and has transitioned 51 percent of them back to the force, WTC's commanding general said.
Brig. Gen. David J. Bishop, who is also the Army's assistant surgeon general for warrior care and transition, presented the stats during a family forum at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting, Oct. 23. He explained that the Army's commitment to its wounded warriors will continue beyond the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If anything, he said the Army has increased its commitment to ensuring that Soldiers are either able to return to duty or able to find gainful, meaningful civilian employment.
"Each Soldier develops (a comprehensive transition plan) for himself or herself with the support of an interdisciplinary team and, of course, their families, who are very much invited to participate," Bishop explained.
"Soldiers set short and long-term goals that align with the domains of strength which you'll find in the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness model and, as you know, they're physical, emotional, social, family, spiritual," he said. "At WTC, we've integrated another one called career, because we think it's so important to enable the transition. This [comprehensive transition plan] is the Soldier's road map to his or her desired future."
The Army G-1's Civilian Human Resource Agency is helping maintain a resume database for wounded warriors, and to help Soldiers achieve their goals, WTC has partnered with agencies across the federal government to help wounded veterans find jobs.
Operation Warfighter, managed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Warrior Care Policy, provides federal internships so wounded warriors, including about 600 Soldiers, can gain work experience, often on Army posts. The Navy's Sea Systems and Air Systems Commands also recently approached WTC about hiring Army wounded warriors.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides vocational rehabilitation and employment counseling for Soldiers in warrior transition units, known as WTUs, and the Department of Labor supports with local veterans employment representatives and disabled veterans outreach placement specialists.
The National Chamber of Commerce is even helping out: WTC is working on a pilot program with them to engage local chambers of commerce to assist in finding employment for returning service members.
"Now, while our Soldiers are focused on recovery, that can put a lot of pressure on family members," Bishop acknowledged and two spouses of wounded warriors on the panel attested. That's why most WTUs provide a family readiness support assistant who can help connect families with community agencies and help solve challenges and problems they face.
Most WTUs are also located near a Soldier and Family Assistance Center, which offers information, referral services and education and career counseling, financial counseling and services, Army Emergency Relief referrals, human resources and military benefits. The centers also usually offer childcare, added Maj. Gen. John Uberti, the deputy commanding general for support at Installation Management Command, so spouses can easily accompany their Soldiers to medical appointments.
"Each family is unique, each family member is unique, and the way they handle each of those transitions is unique," Uberti said. "Our goal is to make sure we're providing the services or access to the services to help our wounded, ill and injured and their families make it through those transitions successfully."
And make no mistake: Families are every bit as affected by an emotional or physical injury as the Soldier, said Catherine Mogil, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor at the Nathanson Family Resilience Center at the University of California, Los Angeles' Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She also helps run a resiliency training program for military families called Families Overcoming Under Stress, or FOCUS.
"Families do recover," she said. "They may not ever go back to the way it was, but they can move forward," and it's important for wounded warriors to recognize that they can still parent, that they're still vital members of their families. They may just need to learn some new skills.
Soldiers and spouses may also need to learn how to speak up and advocate for themselves and theire families when they're confused or when they don't agree with, say, a medical decision, she said. Learning how to "emotionally regulate" and remain calm also makes it easier to communicate, she explained.
Mogil is also focused on helping parents explain their injuries to their children: "We can actually take the core components of what is most helpful to kids and really organize it for families and give them a step-by-step guide on what you need to think about, and this idea of not just sweeping it under the rug and sharing your story with your kids, not in a way that's overwhelming, but in a way that's informative for them. It also gives them a sense of hope."
"For example, we help some of our service members use the language flare ups, because they feel a little more comfortable talking about it: 'I just had a flare up today.' And the kids use it too. So they now say 'Mommy had a flare up,' or 'Daddy had a flare up,' and that was the clue to them to maybe go and do something else, or maybe just come up and hold their parent's hand. It's also very normalizing to say, 'Oh, I had a flare up.' That's a lot easier than to say 'Well, I have this thing called [post-traumatic stress disorder].'"
And because marriages and relationships are often drastically changed after a serious injury, Bishop added, "WTC will be partnering with the USO soon to offer a program called Oxygen, which is a marriage enrichment course that will help couples build resilience in a way that is fun and nonthreatening."