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New Efforts Strengthen Pentagon's Aid to Severely Injured Troops

By Lt. Penny Cockerell, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 6, 2005 – Naval Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Ty Redmon starts each day at the Military Severely Injured Center with a new life-changing challenge.

Each case that comes across Redmon's desk involves helping a severely injured Reserve, Guard or active sailor, mostly due to action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He may help get military orders for relatives to stay bedside, wrangle with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service on pay issues, or simply provide a list of free child care centers injured troops' hometowns.

"You can't put a cookie-cutter pattern on people that are hurt," Redmon said. "And when you have one case, it's like working 10, because there're so many people involved."

Redmon, a former Navy recruiter and civilian medical-device sales manager from Washington, D.C., knows all too well that the severely injured team can make or break the morale and welfare of this nation's most severely wounded.

In a cubicle near downtown Washington, Redmon represents a new Navy program called "Safe Harbor." The program is a comprehensive effort of the Military Severely Injured Center that includes liaisons from all military branches and representatives from the departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs, and the Transportation Security Agency, plus a handful of social workers who take calls around the clock.

Continuing casualties have prompted the need. Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are the first wars since Vietnam to have so many injured troops returning home. Several thousand Marines and sailors have already suffered battle injuries. More warfighters survive battle today because of better armor and medical treatment in the field.

Sailors and Marines return without limbs, or with serious burns and other debilitating injuries. Psychological needs also exist as some cope with painful memories, flashbacks and perhaps guilt.

Redmon says reservists and National Guardsmen are most at risk of falling through the cracks because they don't have the safety net of an active-duty command. Many don't develop problems until they return to hometowns, which are often far from a military hub from which help is readily available.

"Once they demobilize, they're hard to reach," said Redmon, who believes his Reserve experience helps him understand the special needs of Reservists better. For instance, after two poorly handled experiences with severely injured troops traveling home through airports, the center recruited TSA liaisons to work with airports and better manage the special needs of injured troops who must travel.

In one case, a severely injured Seabee from Texas could sit for no longer than an hour and barely raise one arm. When it came time for him to travel from Washington back to Texas, TSA liaisons made sure he got special treatment while going through security. The airlines also seated him in first class for comfort and ensured a short layover to change planes.

Injured reservists' problems can last a long time, so the center is working to establish "Heroes to Hometown" programs nationwide. The idea is to get a community to adopt these severely injured warfighters by making their homecomings and life afterward as easy as possible.

Redmon is working 161 cases involving Navy personnel. Only four are reservists, but of those four: one is a quadriplegic, another a double amputee, and another is severely burned. All have different needs, now and into the future.

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, considers sailors who worked with them overseas as part of their team. At the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Marine coordinators who pass the room of an injured Navy member who was deployed with Marines, stops there too.

"It shows the good relationship that we have between the Navy and Marine Corps, despite the competitive nature. They all look the same lying in the rack and injured," said retired Marine Col. William O'Brien, director of the Wounded Marines and Sailors Initiative at the Pentagon.

"We don't have anything to model this off of. We're basically starting from scratch," Roberson said. "And it's a big challenge. But it's the right thing to do."

Redmon says the biggest problems injured Reservists face are financial ones. They're also more inclined to lose their civilian jobs. One homebuilder, for instance, is too injured to do that type of work again and needed retraining.

Sherman recalled a reservist with six children who had severe injuries and was facing foreclosure on his home. Safe Harbor stepped in and found a lawyer who donated his time for free and who worked with the mortgage company to buy them time. Using the DoD Severely Injured Center, Safe Harbor helped him find a new job that could accommodate his disability. His family is now back on its feet.

Many benevolent agencies are available to help in dozens of ways. Many organizations have been established specifically to help returning warfighters and their families. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are always willing to help, Redmon said. "We have so many people wanting to help. The hardest thing here is coordinating everything and getting it to the member," he said.

New issues crop up all the time. For instance, the military didn't anticipate how many parents would choose to become sole providers for their seriously injured children. Many have quit their jobs to ensure appointments are met and round-the-clock care is given. They need financial support.

The Severely Injured Center also intends to track returning troops for trends to better help troops injured in the future. They will monitor progress and intervene when necessary. Combat stress will be also addressed up front and, when needed, on a one-on-one basis.

Redmon is serving on a 153-day active recall, but said he will likely be extended in his current position. "Until the need is exhausted, they'll keep me going," he said. "It's actually a good fit."

Help is available to wounded veterans and their families 24 hours a day by calling the Military Severely Injured Center Hotline at (888) 774-1361.

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