Casey Pledges Continued Effort to Enhance Survivor Support
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 8, 2009 Providing better care for survivors of fallen servicemembers is a concern near and dear to the hearts of lawmakers and military leaders, but maybe to none more so than the Army chief of staff.
A collection of memorabilia from survivors who have lost loved ones in the line of duty lines the wall at the Army's 2009 Survivor Summit in Crystal City, Va., Oct. 7, 2009. The summit is part of the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services, which is an effort to improve the Army's institutional and personal interaction with survivors of fallen soldiers. U.S. Army photo by D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Addressing more than 100 parents, spouses and children of fallen soldiers at the 2009 Survivor Summit here yesterday, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said he knows firsthand the emotional challenges they face. Just before earning his Army commission in 1970, Casey’s father, Army Maj. Gen. George Casey Sr., was killed in combat.
“I have a lot of interest in this, as I’m a survivor myself,” he said. “I lost my dad in Vietnam when I was 21.”
Many improvements in survivor care have been made throughout the past 40 years. But when he became Army chief of staff a little more than two years ago, he wanted to continue that progress.
“I looked around at what the Army was doing after five years of war for survivors, and we were still just doing casualty assistance,” the general said. “I thought about what my mother and sisters went through -- we have to do better.”
One of his priorities was to develop a survivor program that offers stronger support for families. Survivor care needed to do more than notify the families, assist with funeral arrangements and help understand entitlements -- the Army needed to go beyond just casualty assistance, he said.
Army Survivor Outreach Services, also known as S.O.S, was formed in April 2008. Casey selected a special panel of survivors, and after months of discussion, the new program came to life. Outreach coordinators soon will be working at every Army post, giving survivors another source for support in their communities.
The summit here, which started Oct. 7 and ends tomorrow, is intended to further enhance the program through various work groups. During a question-and-answer session with Casey, a number of concerns were brought to his attention.
Some widows lost their husbands to ailments acquired from the Gulf War and wanted to know what the Pentagon and Congress was doing to improve pre- and post-deployment screenings. Parents wanted to know why they weren’t considered part of the Army family; that they also need to be informed and connected. Other survivors in the group simply were unhappy with the overall care they received from the Army.
“There’s clearly and rightly a lot of pain in this room, and hopefully what you’ll leave here feeling is that we are going to work very hard to take your concerns on to change the way our country deals with survivors,” Casey told the group. “It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be just [the Army that improves].
“The stories I’m hearing today are hugely moving, and it just reinforces the whole reason we started this program,” he continued. “The more I listen to you, the more it reconfirms what I believe: that we need fundamental change to the way we deal with our survivors.”
Casey urged the group to continue sharing their issues and improve on the program’s concept. Their input and ideas will have an impact even outside of the Army, he said.
“I think this thing is going to be bigger than I originally thought it was going to be,” he said. “It’s not just for the Army. I think we’re going to have to use this as a forum to really change how we’re doing business for survivors throughout the country.”