Disabled Soldier Support System Helping Wounded Troops
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2004 Six months after introducing its program to help severely disabled soldiers and their families tap into services available to them through the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the officer who oversees the program said it's sending a strong message that the military is standing by them at their time of need.
"(Disabled) soldiers and their families have made a great sacrifice," said Army Col. Jacqueline Cumbo, chief of the Disabled Soldier Support System DS3 for short -- task force, during an interview today with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service. "We want to make sure they know we recognize their sacrifice and have an organization in place to assist them and that we stand ready to take care of our own."
Since the program was launched in April, DS3 has been helping disabled soldiers cut through red tape to seek out the help or information they need until they can return to active duty or receive a medical retirement from the military.
Cumbo said the intent is eventually to make the program a joint operation, "because we realize that we have soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors that are being injured" worldwide, particularly in support of the war on terror.
Of an estimated 6,000 soldiers who have been wounded during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Cumbo said 880 are potentially eligible for the DS3 program. To qualify, a medical board must determine that they have a 30 percent or greater disability, such as those involving loss of a limb or eye or paralysis.
DS3 is not a new service, but rather serves as a clearinghouse for a host of services already available through the Defense Department and VA, Army officials explained during the program's launch. This gives disabled soldiers a single starting point for help with their financial, administrative, medical, vocational and other needs. It also helps them sort out the medical and vocational entitlements and other benefits for which they quality.
Six months into the program, Cumbo said disabled soldiers share some common questions and concerns.
"The first thing on their minds is how to remain on active duty," she said. "The soldiers are very patriotic. And their only desire is to continue to serve."
But for soldiers who can't or don't choose to remain in the military, Cumbo said they're concerned about how much pay they will receive if they're medically retired, what educational benefits they quality for and how they can land a civilian job.
Soldiers who've been involved in the program call DS3 a success. Army Staff Sgt. Jerry Cortinas, a Special Forces soldier who lost his left hand and has limited use of his right arm after being attached by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan, said DS3 helped him sort out the services available to him. "I was basically lost," he said. "I didn't know what direction to start walking to get the help I needed."
DS3 "supports the soldier 100 percent," Cortinas said. "This program is a really positive thing to help our past, present and future soldiers," as well as their families.
Cumbo said the Department of Veterans Affairs has proven to be "a great partner" in the program, helping ease disabled soldiers' transition from active duty into the next stage of their lives and careers. Similarly, a wide range of veterans' service organizations and the Department of Labor have been active players in the DS3 program.
For more information about the contact, visit the DS3 Web site or call the program staff toll-free at (800) 833-6622.