WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2011 – The military has made great strides in
warrior care over the past decade of war, but much work remains to
be done, particularly when dealing with the invisible wounds of war,
the Army vice chief of staff said today.
Speaking at the
Warrior Transition Command's Warrior Care and Transition Program
Training Conference in Orlando, Fla., Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli
discussed the challenges posed by the complexity of today's war
injuries and the initiatives in the works to improve care for troops
and their families.
“There's no more important work than
caring for our own,” the general told the audience. “It's absolutely
critical we do everything we can to assist those service members and
families dealing with [injuries] now and in the future,” he said.
The nation has been at war for nearly a decade, he said, and it
remains a difficult endeavor in many regards. The terrain is
physically demanding, and the enemy's primary mode of attack is the
homemade bomb, he noted, which has left in its wake lost limbs,
severe burns and complicated invisible wounds of war, such as
traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.
invisible injuries represent the signature wounds of war,” Chiarelli
said. “Given the complexity and, in some instances, the latency of
symptoms, it's very likely we'll be dealing with them and helping
veterans cope for decades to come.”
The military has made
great progress with the physical wounds of war, Chiarelli noted. He
said he often challenges audiences to find a negative article about
how the Army is caring for service members with the loss of a limb
or multiple limbs. They'd be hard-pressed to find one, he noted.
“The advances made in prosthetics in the past 10 years are
nothing short of amazing,” he said. “I can go to the hospital and
look a kid in the eye who had been in a blast and tell him, ‘Six
months from now, your life will look a lot better than it looks
He can't, however, make the same promise to a
service member with TBI, the general said.
the study of brain injuries is in its infancy,” he said. “We just
don't know enough on how to fully heal, or in some cases, even
effectively treat injuries to the brain.” As a result, the general
noted, service members and their families dealing with these
injuries often are discouraged, frustrated and even disheartened.
Chiraelli recalled meeting a young Army wife at a TBI
roundtable. Her husband had been injured in a blast in Iraq, he
said, and was struggling to cope with TBI along with post-traumatic
stress. The children were having a tough time understanding why
their father was withdrawn and depressed since he looked physically
fine, the general said, and the wife was overwhelmed by the
situation. She was afraid to leave her husband alone, even to run to
the store for a carton of milk.
“These are the challenges
we're dealing with now,” he said. “While there's promising research
under way, the fact is we have a long, long way to go. Even when it
seems you are doing everything you possibly can for these soldiers,
in some instances, it's just not enough.”
noted, the military has made tremendous progress in warrior care. He
praised the creation of the Army's Warrior Transition Command --
which serves as the lead proponent for the Army's Warrior Care and
Transition Program -- as well as military- and community-based
warrior transition units.
Warrior transition units have
proven a great success, he noted, with a goal not just to treat
injuries, but to foster every individual's independence. And future
initiatives will help to build on this success, he said, citing a
The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments
are working together to develop a new Integrated Disability
Evaluation System, Chiarelli said, to streamline the delivery of
disability services and benefits for wounded, ill and injured
service members who are unable to continue on active duty.
Since January 2008, the number of cases initiated has risen 160
percent, the general said, and on average, 1,600 soldiers are added
to the system each month. Meanwhile, he added, case processing time
also has increased about 48 percent, with an average of 258 days to
complete the physical evaluation board and reach final disposition –
even longer until service members receive VA benefits.
legacy disability evaluation system is “complex, disjointed, hard to
understand, and it takes too long to complete,” Chiarelli
The new program is intended to shorten this
process while also ensuring a fair and more understandable system,
the general said. The Defense Department's goal is for service
members to receive VA benefits within 295 days, he said, but
stressed the importance of a fair and thorough process, even if that
equates to additional time. For example, the new system offers
service members a second referral option and counseling sessions
with a judge advocate general.
“The additional time may be
appropriate as we look at what's right and in the best interest of
our soldiers,” he said. The system is expected to be implemented on
38 Army installations by Oct. 1, he added.
The military also
is working on a single automated system for tracking soldiers
undergoing medical or physical evaluation boards. Currently, three
automated systems exist, and all track different things, Chiarelli
“I don't have a single system that gives me total
visibility of all the cases at any point in time,” he said. “These
are the kinds of things we're working through, and will take a total
The military is working hard to ensure the same
level of care for Reserve and Guard soldiers, the general said. The
Army, for example, opened a new reserve component soldier medical
support center in Florida with a goal of improving and transforming
the disability evaluation process for reserve-component soldiers.
And for the Army National Guard, a pilot program called reserve
component managed care will allow states the ability to place
soldiers with line-of-duty injuries on Title 10 orders for up to 180
days of treatment.
These initiatives and others are the least
the nation can do for its service members and their families,
“There's nothing more humbling than the
opportunities I've had over the past couple of years to visit our
nation's wounded warriors and their families,” he said. “They're
truly the most amazing and inspiring people you will ever meet.
“We made a commitment to the men and women who volunteer and
wear the cloth of this great nation to care for them in the event
they become wounded, ill or injured in combat” he said, “and we're
keeping that promise.”
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
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