DoD Works to Improve Care, Transition for Wounded Troops
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, 2005 The military's goal is to provide world-class care from injury on the battlefield through its stateside medical facilities, a top Army medical official said here today.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Webb Jr., the Army's deputy surgeon general and chief of staff of its medical command, testified with six other military officials before the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on military personnel.
"It's certainly the goal of the Army Medical Department to provide world-class care from the point of injury on the battlefield all the way back to return to duty," he said. "That's always been our goal, always will be and we want to take every step of that way treating our servicemen with dignity and compassion."
Four servicemembers injured in the global war on terrorism also testified, and they agreed the medical care they received was excellent. The administrative side of the coin, however, received far fewer accolades.
The four, one member from each service, made up the first panel to testify before the subcommittee. All had tales that reflected the commitment of seamless care from the battlefield to the hospitals that Webb spoke of.
Marine Sgt. Christopher Chandler said pain management was the only glitch he experienced in his care and transition back to active duty as an amputee.
But when it came to how their cases were handled administratively, the servicemembers related incidents of failure to notify family members of their injuries, facilities ill-equipped to handle an amputee patient and in one case, a reserve sailor being denied the limited duty status he needed to get timely follow-on medical care.
Chief Warrant Officer James Keeton with the Arkansas National Guard said he discovered the first of several administrative shortcomings in his case when he called his family from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he was taken from Iraq with an irregular heartbeat and a bronchial condition.
"The system, as it began to separate the administrative functions from the medical functions, unraveled at Landstuhl," Keeton said. "It was there I found out my family had never been notified. When I called my children to tell them that things weren't as bad as they originally thought, ... they said, 'Well, Dad, what are you talking about?'"
His experience continued upon his arrival to Fort Hood, Texas, where he was told to see a cardiologist. Instead, an internist saw him for his heart condition. The internist scheduled some follow-up appointments and sent him on his way. He was also to have been assigned a care manager to help him transition back into his rear detachment unit. That individual was not at work that day, and there was no backup. To top matters off, he said, his rear detachment had not been notified of his impending arrival.
"Essentially, I spent two days roaming around Fort Hood by myself trying to get situated ... back into the system for the rear detachment," Keeton said
All four panelists agreed that some sort of briefing on what they could expect to happen in the event they were injured would be helpful.
The two reservists on the panel, Keeton and Navy Chief Petty Officer Anthony Cuomo, also expressed their concern that reservists and guardsmen are treated differently from their active duty counterparts administratively. Both cited problems with obtaining follow-on care.
This also was a concern for Air Force Senior Airman Anthony Pizzifred, who testified that while he was considered an Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom patient, his care was excellent. There was a marked difference in his care once he returned to active duty status, though, he said.
"In my case, Air Force hospitals were not equipped or knowledgeable on amputee follow-on care and ... ordered all my treatment through Army medical centers," Pizzifred said. "However, I was referred to an Army medical center which also lacked experience in treating amputee patients.
"I understand that these types of injuries were uncommon prior to the war," he continued, "but I believe physicians need to get more training and experience on amputee victims prior to patients arriving at any medical center."
Vice Adm. Gerald Hoewing, chief of Navy personnel, said the services - the Navy in particular - are working to address these issues.
"These men and women have displayed their total commitment, and they certainly deserve everything we can do for them," he said. "It's our honor and our duty to provide them the maximum support possible and help them cope with these challenges associated with recovery from their injuries."
The Air Force is concerned about making sure servicemembers' families don't slip through the cracks should a loved one be injured.
"We're proud of our very professional and compassionate family liaison officers and casualty assistance representatives," said Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel. "These are highly trained professionals who are with the families from the point they are initially notified. And they stay with them ... as long as they are needed. This relationship is critical to properly taking care of our families."
The care of servicemembers not only involves medical treatment, but often the transition back into civilian life. Each service has a program to help wounded servicemembers with their transition back into civilian life.
"For those Marines that decided that they would want to return home ... we would help that transition and make it as seamless as possible," Marine Lt. Gen. H.P. Osman, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, told the subcommittee. "In particular, we're working very closely with our associates in the (Veterans Affairs Department) to make sure that happens."