Troops, Families to Benefit From New Center for Injured
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 2, 2005 A new organization is helping to make sure servicemembers with severe injuries have all available resources.
"One way we can express our gratitude for (injured servicemembers) is by working to make sure that the Department of Defense, the U.S. government and the American people as a whole do everything we can to enable these heroes to recover from their injuries and rebuild their lives," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Feb. 1.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stands with his
hand on his heart as Army Staff Sgt. Casey Armstrong sings the national anthem
during the ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the Military Severely
Injured Joint Support Operations Center. To the right of Wolfowitz is Joint
Chiefs Vice Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace. The new center, located in
Arlington, Va., is intended to act as a core resource for injured
servicemembers and their families trying to navigate services and benefits
available to them. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Wolfowitz addressed his comments to the crowd gathered for the Feb. 1 ribbon cutting to officially open the Military Severely Injured Joint Operations Center here.
The new center will tie together military and other government programs, such as the Army Disabled Soldier Support System and similar programs in the other services, and those run by the departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs.
"The purpose of the center is to bring things together to make sure no one falls through the cracks, make sure everyone has a single telephone number that they may call if they have a question, a problem, an issue that has not been properly resolved," said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
"Our job may not be to resolve the issue, it may be to turn to the appropriate service provider and say, 'We have private so-and-so here (and) we need to do X, Y and Z for him or her,'" Chu said.
Other times, the center staff members may need to take action themselves, he said. As an example, Chu used the case of a young officer who wants to return to graduate school but can't leave the hospital to take the Graduate Record Exam. This is the type of case that doesn't fall into any particular military service's niche. Therefore the center will try to arrange for the officer to take the test another way.
The center's mission is not to replace government or military programs, Chu said. "It is to unify. It is to coordinate. It is to give every family member a place of recourse if they need it."
The services of the center, which will be under the direction of Chu's office, are a toll-free phone call away. Help is available to servicemembers or their families at (888) 774-1361 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When calling the center, a servicemember or family member will be assigned a care manager to serve as a permanent point of contact.
"A family will be assigned a care manager for the entire time they're in the system," said Navy Cmdr. Dave Julian, director of operations for the military side of the center. "We're looking for extended support for five years and beyond."
He also said the center can meet most of a family's needs. "We have a wealth of resources to take advantage of," Julian said. "There's no shortage of people that want to help servicemembers and their families."
Wolfowitz said he realized the need for the center just a short time ago. The number of phone calls his office was receiving requesting help with different issues was the red flag. "This is very much the vision of (Wolfowitz), who has taken a deep personal interest in the wounded and their families," Chu said.
Patti Walker, wife of Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Walker, sees the center as a buoy for spouses who have many responsibilities and decisions to make when they learn their loved one in the military has been injured. Had the center existed when her husband, currently with the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, was injured in Iraq, her experience would have been much easier, she said.
"When Kevin was injured, I was incredibly alone," Walker said. "This center would have helped me more than I can ever tell you. I didn't know where to turn when Kevin was injured. It's going to be a very good vehicle for military spouses."