Staying Power: Marine Corps’ Call Center Contacts, Assists Wounded Warriors
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2008 Wounded warriors who call into the Marine Wounded Warrior Call Center near Quantico, Va., find truth in the motto, “once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Alfredo Soto stands next to his depiction of a growling bulldog, the Marine Corps’ mascot, in his work cubicle at the Marine Wounded Warrior Call Center in Dumfries, Va., Sept. 30, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That’s because their calls are answered by people like Alfredo Soto, who fondly remembers the camaraderie he experienced during his service in the Marine Corps.
“We were always being told to look out for and take care of your buddy,” Soto, 36, said. He is one of several veterans and military family members who work the phones at the call center in Dumfries, Va.
“I know I’m out of the Marine Corps, but it doesn’t matter; once a Marine always a Marine,” said Soto, who hails from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
After he reached sergeant’s rank, a bad knee persuaded Soto to obtain an honorable discharge in 2007 after serving more than eight years in the Corps. Soto has worked at the call center for about a year. His fluency in Spanish, he said, helps him connect with veterans with Hispanic roots.
The center’s mission is to seek out and assist discharged Marines and sailors injured during service in the global war on terrorism, said director John Chavis, who retired in 2005 as a Marine Corps first sergeant with 24 years of service.
The center has helped more than 9,400 former Marines and sailors since it opened on Nov. 19, 2007, Chavis said. It is a component of the Wounded Warrior Regiment established in April 2007 at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. The center recently relocated into more spacious quarters just down the street from its original site.
The outreach program, Chavis said, assures discharged Marines and sailors “that the Marine Corps is still with them.”
A Proactive Approach to Help
The center’s proactive approach pays dividends, especially since Marines tend to be independent-minded, Chavis said. Some former Marines, he said, might be “less apt to ask for help” and would rather try to work out their issues on their own.
The center’s customer care representatives make their phone calls from a list of servicemembers known to have been wounded and separated from the military, Chavis said. The representatives also consult a checklist, he said, that contains contact information about available medical care, counseling and other services. The center also provides information to veterans who may want to appeal their service disability ratings, he said, and to help them with job searches.
“Once we make contact with them, if we give them information or something to do, we do a three-day follow-up call,” Chavis said. The center also contacts agencies that the veterans have been referred to, he said, to ensure they’re being provided the services they’ve requested.
Many people contacted by the center have suffered significant war-related wounds, Chavis said, including severe burns and brain trauma, as well as injuries that resulted in amputations. Other veterans bear less-visible wounds, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
Call center employees pride themselves on “ensuring that when we find an issue with an injured Marine [or sailor], we resolve his issue,” Chavis said. “Our success rate, I’d say, is about 100 percent.”
Injured Marines and sailors still on active duty are assisted by two wounded warrior battalions, one at Camp Lejuene, N.C., and the other at Camp Pendleton, Calif., he said.
Mary Duplechain, 36, who has worked as a customer service representative at the center for a year, knows the military’s workings and its jargon. Duplechain’s Marine husband is a senior noncommissioned officer. Her father, she said, retired from the Navy after 23 years of service.
The call center can help Marine Corps and Navy veterans secure appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals and other facilities, Duplechain said.
“We have points of contacts, we have numbers [and] names” for available veterans’ services and programs, she said.
The center also makes use of the Defense Department’s America Supports You Web site, Duplechain said, which lists more than 300 nonprofit groups that assist veterans and servicemembers. The Military OneSource Web site is another good resource tool, she said.
Most veterans are grateful for the help, she added.
“That’s the kind of feedback that motivates me to keep on,” Duplechain said. “They are grateful and happy; they know that somebody is out there, wanting to listen to what’s going on with them.”
Jarrett Mattingly, 28, works as one of the call center’s four shift supervisors. Like Duplechain, she is married to a Marine, a commissioned officer.
Mattingly is proud of her work in helping former Marines and sailors obtain benefits they’ve earned through their military service. “I feel that I’m doing something really good,” she said. “It’s a rewarding thing for the people who work here, and hopefully, we’re providing the outcomes that that the people we’re trying to help need.”
The call center is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, except for federal holidays. Its toll-free phone number is 877-487-6299.
(Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of articles about seriously wounded warriors returning to active duty).