Wounded Warrior Family Hotline – Who Needs It?

The American Forces Press Service (an arm of the Defense Department) released the following today which was published on the Defense Department’s website:

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2007 – Army officials this morning launched a new hotline to help wounded warriors and their family members to get information or assistance with medical or other issues.

The “Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline,” 1-800-984-8523, also will help Army leaders improve services to wounded soldiers and their families, officials said.

“We have designed this call center to be able to collectively hear what the soldiers say about their health care issues, so as issues are raised, we can identify systemic faults or problematic areas and senior leaders can better allocate resources,” said Maj. Gen. Sean J. Byrne, commander of U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

“It’s all about serving our wounded and injured soldiers and their families,” he added. “If we can find a way to improve our system, we will. It’s that simple.”

In a statement, Army officials acknowledged that many soldiers wounded in the global war on terror and their families are “enduring hardships in navigating through our medical care system.”

“The Army is committed to providing outstanding medical care for the men and women who have volunteered to serve this great nation,” officials said in the statement.

Care of wounded soldiers has been in the spotlight since a February series of articles in the Washington Post revealed shortcomings in outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, here. Since then, the hospital’s commander was relieved, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey resigned, and the service’s surgeon general submitted his retirement request over the issue.

“Recent events made it clear the Army needs to revise how it meets the needs of our wounded and injured Soldiers and their families,” Army officials said in yesterday’s statement. “In certain cases, the soldiers’ chain of command could have done a better job in helping to resolve medically related issues.”

Officials stressed that the hotline is not intended to circumvent the chain of command, but is “another step in the direction of improvement.”

“Wounded and injured soldiers and their families expect and deserve the very best care and leadership from America’s Army,” officials said. “The Army’s intent is to ensure wounded and injured soldiers and their families that they receive the best medical care possible. The Army chain of command will ensure every soldier is assisted in navigating the military health care system.

The Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline can be reached from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1-800-984-8523. As additional personnel are trained to receive calls and refer them to the proper organization or agency for resolution, the hotline hours of operation will expand to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, officials said.

Given the recent news stories about poor or absent health care being provided to our returning veterans, it is no surprise that the pressure is on the Pentagon and the administration to react, but this announcement sounds like the usual rhetoric, rather than reacting with some positive actions that lead to immediate improvement, it seems as if the only value of this hotline will be to add another layer between our wounded returning military personel, their families and the military establishment that has not lived up to its side of the bargain in terms of providing adequate care to our war wounded.

Notice what the press release says and does not say, probably the most telling statement appears at the end of the release:

…personnel are trained to receive calls and refer them to the proper organization or agency for resolution.

Note that all this promises to a wounded veteran or his or her family is at best an agency name, phone number and maybe address, that the veteran would then have to follow-up with.  Would these be the same agencies that have recently been identified as failing to perform?

Note also the statement attributed to Maj. Gen. Sean J. Byrne, commander of U.S. Army Human Resources Command in which he states that the army wants to hear from our soldiers about their health care issues, so that they can identify systemic “faults” or “problems”.  They need to deploy a call center, acquire and train a staff, and then poll, for who knows what extended duration, those who find the hotline and call in, in order to determine what they need to fix?  What controlled substance are these people abusing, or what alternate universe do they come from?  They can’t look at what is occuring at their own hospital facilities?  They can’t, today, assign members of the active duty military as official advocates of each and every wounded war veteran as soon as they land on home shores?

A very long time ago, and for far too long, the military has been very organized and skilled at graves details, morturary services, and family notifications, how about developing some expertise in providing for the health and welfare of our wounded veterans?  According to the Pentagon’s casulaty report released today, 3,210 of our men and women were killed in Iraq, 369 were killed in Afghanistan, 24,042 have been wounded in action in Iraq and 1,131 have been wounded in action in Afghanistan.  At a time when we have 27,252 wounded veterans (which includes both those returned to duty, and not returned to duty) our commander-in-chief is sending 21,500 more of our people in to harm’s way, with all the likelihood that the “surge” will not change the outcome of our blunders in Iraq.

Here is an idea: Take those 21,500 able-bodied men and women and equip them and deploy them stateside, as Wounded Warrior Advocates.  Assign one active duty person to each wounded soldier, sailor, marine, and airman, to be their personal advocates, and empower them to cut through the bullshit and red tape of the military establishment and Veteran’s Administration and begin to give back to those, who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

Here is another idea: According to a story in the Kansas City Star today, Congress has already appropriated $607 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Pentagon can save the American people a hell of a lot of money, once we finally do withdraw from Iraq, maybe then they can spend a fraction of that on the infrastructure and personnel necessary to provide the best medical care possible to our war veterans.  Just one percent, $6 billion would go a very long way, if not mis-managed, towards putting back together the lives of our military wounded.

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