Army Showcases Support Program for Disabled Terror War Vets
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2004 The Army today hosted a Pentagon media roundtable to discuss a new support program aimed at helping disabled soldiers and their families through the rehabilitation and transition process.
The Army began work on Disabled Soldier Support System 3 eight months ago to provide counseling and help to severely disabled soldiers and their families through a "direct support" system, said Army Col. Robert H. Woods Jr., director of the Army's Human Resources Policy Directorate.
"Dealing with injuries can be a traumatic experience," he said. "And we want to be there, right there with them, taking them through the entire process."
He said that support system will incorporate the help several existing military agencies, such as Veterans Affairs and the Army Career and Alumni Program, as well as civilian agencies and corporations.
DS3 began after Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee and Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi sought ways in which disabled vets could be better served.
Veterans eligible for the program must have received a disability rating of 30 percent or greater and be in a "special category" as a result of injuries or illness. Those injuries may include amputees, severe burns and head injuries and loss of eyesight, Wood said.
According to Army statistics, recent conflict has so far resulted in more than 880 disabled veterans, 230 of them now enrolled in the DS3 program, he said. Soldiers entered into the program will go through three phases.
The first phase is getting the soldier through medical stabilization and rehabilitation, and then on to proper medical treatment channels.
The soldier is then provided medical care and evaluated for continued service on active duty or help with disability decision.
Phase 3 includes helping the soldier with decisions on retirement and transition back to civilian life. Soldiers also will be offered help with educational and employment decisions.
The Department of the Army is the largest employer of veterans, who make up 25 percent the department's civilian work force. Of that number, 7 percent are disabled veterans.
Meanwhile, Woods said, the Army is in the process of hiring more than 200 caseworkers who will follow disabled soldiers for up to five years after they enter the program. He added that the Army plans to have one caseworker for every 30 disabled soldiers. Caseworkers will help soldiers with problems that arise throughout the rehabilitation and transition process.
The Army also plans to establish a toll-free hotline for soldiers to call during normal business hours.
Woods said that currently most of the disabled soldiers returning from combat are being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. As the program continues to grow, Woods said, the Army envisions placing DS3 counselors at Army regional medical centers throughout the United States.
Sgt. Michael Cain of the 299th Engineer Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, a truck driver, was injured during a resupply mission in Tikrit when his truck rolled over an antitank mine. The blast severed his right leg below the knee.
Although Cain said he used DS3 counselors only sparingly during his two-month hospital stay, counselors were able to help find a place for his parents when they came to visit and were readily available to help during his recovery.
"They do let you know what they have to offer to you. They let you know what they do and how they can help you," he said.
Woods said the focus of the DS3 program is in the final statement of the Army Ethos: "I will never leave a fallen comrade behind."
"That's the focus of the DS3 program," he emphasized. "We didn't leave them when they got hurt on the battlefield; we brought them home, we medically stabilized them. And now we're not going to leave them at all."
Woods said the program is being briefed to the other services so that they can consider offering similar programs to their servicemembers.