DoD, VA Highlight Advances in Wounded Warrior, Family Care
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 12, 2008 Two officials from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs cited a veritable laundry list of changes in wounded warrior and family care in testimony at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday.
In all, the two departments are in the process of implementing more than 400 recommendations compiled from five major studies of military health care over the past few years, according to a joint opening statement submitted by senior officials from both departments.
Dr. Lynda Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for military personnel, and Kristin Day, chief consultant for case management and social work for the VA, appeared before the committee. Davis is the Defense Department’s lead official for the reform of wounded warrior care, specializing in case management. Davis and Day co-chair the case management reform action group, which collaborates with military family members, government agencies, veteran service organizations and private groups.
“We are pleased to report that, while much work remains to be completed, meaningful progress has been made through improved processes and greater collaboration between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs,” the officials said in a statement submitted to the committee.
Central to the changes was the creation of a senior oversight committee staff made up of senior officials from both departments. Among others, it includes all service secretaries and is co-chaired by the deputy secretaries of both departments, according to the statement.
“The (committee) continues work to streamline, de-conflict, and expedite the two departments' efforts to improve support of wounded, ill, and injured service members’ and veterans’ recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration,” officials stated in the testimony.
On top on the list has been improving the disability evaluation system, establishing a center of excellence for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, establishing a federal recovery coordination program, and improving data sharing between the DoD and VA. Developing medical facility inspection standards and improved delivery of pay and benefits are also key, the officials said.
Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, the departments have been working to identify and support a full range of needs for the service members, veterans and families.
Fundamental to many of the changes is the realization that “the creation of a truly integrated process involves inter-service, interagency, intergovernmental, public, and private collaboration in the development and application of policies, procedures, programs, and professionals that serve and support those we honor,” they said in the joint statement.
The officials cited several initiatives aimed at improving integration of the departments’ services, but they also said a seamless transition is often not “a straight path.” Veterans and service members often move back and forth between DoD and VA facilities.
Specific steps taken include creating a joint VA and DoD federal recovery coordinator program. These coordinators are charged with managing needs of severely injured servicemembers and their families. Eight coordinators were hired in December 2007. They are working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here; Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio; and the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. Two more coordinators are planned -- one more for Brooke and one for Naval Medical Center San Diego.
In addition, the departments are developing a joint family handbook and Web site to provide a roadmap with information on benefits and services. “The critical role family members play in the ability of a wounded, ill or injured service-member or veteran to not only heal but thrive has long been recognized by the departments and the military services,” the officials said.
The two departments also are developing a benefits Web site dubbed “My e-Benefits” that will serve as a single, all-inclusive site for benefits information.
In addition to joint programs, DoD has launched several initiatives aimed at improving care for wounded warriors and their families:
-- MilitaryHOMEFRONT serves as the official DoD web site for reliable quality-of-life information designed to help troops and their families, leaders and service providers;
-- The DoD Military Assistance Program provides a Web site with information and interactive resources for assisting in relocations, money management and job searches.
-- The Military Spouse Resource Center is designed to assist spouses by providing easy access to information, resources and opportunities related to education, training and employment.
--The Military Child in Transition and Deployment program serves as the official source of education information for DoD.
--The PDHealth.mil Web site provides information and guidance for servicemembers and their families about support services available from the military, VA and the private sector.
--The Military Spouse Career Advancement Initiative enables eligible candidates to receive career advancement accounts of $3,000 for one year, and renewable a second year for an additional $3,000, to pay for expenses related to postsecondary education and training.
In addition, the National Guard and reserves were highlighted for their family programs, the officials said.
The two leaders said they believe the greatest improvement to long-term care and support of America's wounded warriors and veterans will come from enacting provisions recommended by the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors. The nine-member panel co-chaired by Donna Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services, and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, was created in March by President Bush.
“We have, thus, positioned ourselves to implement these provisions and continue our progress in providing world-class support to our warriors and veterans while allowing our two departments to focus on our respective core missions,” the officials said in the joint statement. “Our dedicated, selfless servicemembers, veterans and their families deserve the very best, and we pledge to give our very best during their recovery, rehabilitation, and return to the society they defend.”