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Ability More Important than Disability, Mullen Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Feb. 20, 2008 – A person’s ability is far more important than a person’s disability, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 19, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to reporters while en route here after visiting the Wounded Warrior Battalion West at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He is on a six-day trip to California, Hawaii and Australia.

“Those who have been injured served so well,” Mullen said. “One of the things they are asking is, ‘OK, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ They want to be as good and great as they possibly can be, given that their lives have changed dramatically.”

The servicemember has to figure out what to do, the chairman said. “The system has a way of focusing on the disability side of this, and that’s the compensation part,” said he explained. “That’s really important. But to me, while it is important, it is of secondary importance to us saying to an individual, ‘What is your ability? What is your potential?’”

The system has to move wounded warriors seamlessly from Defense Department to Veterans Affairs health care, and right back to the communities, Mullen said, and has to “support someone getting to their potential, whatever it is.”

“The words we choose are really important here,” he said.

Disability, he said, is a term for monetary compensation. DoD and VA focus on a servicemember’s disability for a rating or for medical retirement. It’s compensation for what they can’t do any more, and it flavors the way they are treated by the bureaucracy.

Thinking of ability rather than disability is a sea change, the admiral said, but that’s how everyone in the wounded warrior system needs to think. “The VA ought to be about future employment,” he said. “It ought to be about jobs, it ought to be about their futures.”

Mullen said DoD and VA are working together better than ever before, but more remains to be done in that regard.

“I take my most precious resource – my people, who in many cases sacrificed a great part of their futures – and we take care of them medically, we put them through the system and we determine if they are going to stay in the military or not,” he said. “If not, we then take them and transition them to another system, the VA system. I get no regular feedback,” he continued, “and yet that’s still my sailor or Marine or soldier or airman that I want to be well taken care of.”

Beyond VA care, Mullen said, he is concerned about what happens when the servicemember returns to the community. “I believe there is a sea of goodwill out there for veterans,” he said. “How do we tap that sea of goodwill to take care of these servicemembers?”

The United States is a rich nation and can afford to do right by these men and women, the nation’s top military officer said.

“Write it off the top,” he said. “The numbers are not overwhelming. These are young people who almost lost their lives doing something we, as a country, asked them to do.”

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Adm. Mike Mullen, USN

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Mullen Visits Pendleton Wounded Warrior Battalion

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