Servicemembers, Vets Cite Need for Recovery Coordinators
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2007 The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs are partnering with other government and non-government agencies to find ways to improve the lives of severely injured servicemembers and veterans, officials said July 27.
Defense and VA officials agree that the concept of a full-time patient-recovery coordinators would greatly help severely wounded warriors and veterans access needed services, Lynda C. Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for military personnel policy, told American Forces Press Service.
Davis and Kristin A. Day, the VA’s acting national social work director, co-chair the case management reform action group, which collaborates with military family members, government agencies, veterans service organizations and private groups.
Davis and Day hosted a joint Defense Department/Veterans Affairs July 26-27 meeting at the Pentagon that addressed non-clinical care management issues affecting severely wounded servicemembers and veterans, such as coordination of benefits and disability, access to housing, transportation, rehabilitative care, occupational therapy, employment, education and more.
“It’s everything in a person’s life that’s needed to make their recovery complete that is not the strictly medical side,” Davis said.
A previous summit in May addressed what was needed in the clinical realm, she added, such as information technology and training requirements, including discussion of needed policy changes.
This March, President Bush established the Presidential Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors after the Washington Post disclosed patient-care shortfalls at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
The commission, chaired by former Sen. Robert J. Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, examined the overall state of the military’s health care system and care for veterans. The commission released its findings July 25.
One of the commission’s recommendations is to develop a recovery plan for seriously injured servicemembers and to assign recovery coordinators or case managers to severely wounded servicemembers and veterans to help them access benefits and ongoing care.
This person would complement the many current care providers and be “a consistent resource that is with the individual servicemember and the family across the full continuum of their care from the point of acute care in a hospital in the DoD, to the recuperation phase in the VA hospital, to the time when they’ll live most of their life back in their community.”
Officials now are examining what type of standardized training recovery coordinators would require, Davis said, as well as closely examining requirements to determine an efficient, integrated recovery-care plan for injured military veterans.
Officials envision that VA recovery coordinators, known as transition patient advocates, would begin to interface with their servicemember clients when they’re still being treated in military hospitals, Day said.
The VA has hired more than 80 of 100 patient transition advocates over the past few months, Day pointed out.
“If the patient’s home is in Kansas City, for example, the transition patient advocate will be notified by the VA liaison at the DoD facility and will travel to the patient, introduce themselves, and start a relationship,” Day explained. “It’s very important to have somebody understand your whole story, to have been there with you (through) everything you’ve been through.”
VA patient advocates “will literally be at the kitchen table each step of the way” as veterans begin rebuilding their lives in their home towns, Day said.
Up to now, wives or husbands often managed their veteran-spouses’ recovery needs, with mixed results, Day said. “The families, right now, have to navigate all of these systems, and it’s overwhelming,” Day said. “We’re going to do that for them.”
Marine Maj. Peter Ortell, hometown link coordinator for the Marine for Life program, who attended the Pentagon summit meeting, said military and veterans’ families have cited the need for a dedicated recovery advocate.
“They want a single resource or point of contact they can go to, so that they do not have to learn the entire system themselves and become their own advocates,” Ortell said.
Wounded warriors and veterans already “have a whole slew of stressors,” Ortell pointed out, noting that “having more stress by having to navigate this huge medical system just adds more stress.”