Pilot Disability Evaluation System To Launch

November 30, 2007

When the President’s Commission to evaluate the Military and VA healthcare systems made their recommendations, one thing that they recommended was to have just one disability evaluation system to cut down on time as well as eliminate the redundancy of having two separate evaluation systems. I’m pleased to see that these changes are beginning to be implemented, in a way which will hopefull make the process smoother for our Wounded Warriors, as they transition from the military medical system of care to the VA system of care.

The DoD and VA systems have announced that they have recently implemented a pilot test for disability cases, that originate at the three major military medical treatment facilities and the VA hospital in the Washington DC region. The pilot test program will run for one year, at which time the leaders of the DoD and VA will review the progress made during the previous year. This will assist in determining when the program will be expanded to other locations across the country.

The pilot program is designed to be a servicemember centric program that is designed to eliminate duplication of services and the confusion between the VA and Dod disability systems. One of the key features will the one medical examination, as opposed to two (one by each department) that is currently in place, as well as a single-sourced disability rating. Currently, a servicemember would receive a disability rating by their branch of the military and one by the VA. The goal is to help the wounded servicemember transition more easily to veteran status and provide them their VA benefits and compensation in a more timely fashion.

Continuum of care from the point of injury, through rehabilitation and back into the community are being examined. The objectives are to improve the timeliness, effectiveness and transparancy of the process and improve case management, flow of information between the two agencies and improve the information that is provided to servicemembers and their family members.

The hope is to ensure a seamless transtion for our wounded warriors, from the care, benefits and services of the military medical system to the VA system. By conducting the pilot program, areas for improvement can be identified, as well as the identification of additional resources for the service member and their fmaily.

The scope of the pilot program will include all non-clinical areas and activities, such as case management, and counseling requirements that can be associated with a disability case processing from the point of the injury, through the military medical evaluation review board, to the point of compensation and benefits to the veterans by the VA.

The pilot program has been developed over the past several months and focuses on the recommendations that can be made without legislative changes. These are based on the reports from several sources, including the Task Force on Returning Global War on Terrorism Heroes, the Independant Review Group, the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors (headed by Bob Dole and Donna Shalala) and the Commission on Veteran’s Disability Benefits.

I’m hopeful that this pilot program will prove successful and will be expanded to cover the entire military medical system as well as the VA, across the country. Our Wounded Warriors deserve the very best medical care and treatment that is available, in a fair and timely manner. Our Warriors have given a lot to our country and thus should be given the respect, the very best in healthcare and treatment that is currently available.


He’s Home!!!!!!!

November 29, 2007

Don’t think I need to say anymore!

Twice Injured Medic Returns To Duty

November 29, 2007

Many of us know of the bravery and courage of our Troops who are serving in harms way, we make it our business to know about the incredible young men and women. The media won’t tell us about them, but somehow, we always find a way to find out about them and make sure others are aware of the calibre of people our country is blessed to have serving in our military. I’d like to introduce our readers to yet another courageous young Soldier, Army SPC Cassandra L. Miles.

SPC Miles, serving her third combat deployment, recently returned to Afghanistan on November 12th, following treatment in Germany for her second injury from an IED detonation. SPC Miles could have chosen the easy route and returned home after suffering a mild concussion and possible traumatic brain injury in an October 28th IED explosion. Instead of taking the easy way out, SPC Miles volunteered to return to Afghanistan.

Miles serves as a medic attached to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. She was injured when an IED exploded near the door of her Humvee during a patrol in Logar province. Because she felt a duty to the fellow Soldiers in her unit, she asked to be returned to the aid station and medical platoon at FOB Shank to resume her duties, as soon as it was possible to do so.

“A lot of people don’t understand that we’re very shorthanded as it is, and my section is more of a family than anything,” Miles said. “Unless I had to definitely go home and I had no choice, then I was going to go back.”

“I feel like I’m blessed,” Miles said. “I’m alive with my limbs and my legs, and I shouldn’t be because of where the impact was. I shouldn’t even be here, but I’m still capable of doing what I’ve got to do - treat patients.”

Miles is part of a medical platoon that is composed of medics, of which over half are women. The medics patrol on a daily basis with infantry paratroopers. She feels that her platoon leader, 2LT Adam Davies has made the work environment positive, despite the challenging environment.

“He really sticks his neck out there for us and takes care of us,” Miles said. “He fights our battles that we can’t fight without having the rank.”

Miles has been able to prove herself among her male counterparts as well as the infantry paratroopers her unit patrols with. She’s more than willing to do whatever is necessary, to do whatever the guys do.

“You have to do what they do,” said PFC Megan Anstiss, a fellow medic. “When they get out of the truck; you get out of the truck. When something breaks, you help fix it. You’re there when you’re supposed to be. Don’t do the girly stuff. If you act like a Soldier, they’ll treat you like a Soldier.”

The job of an Army medic is a tough one, whether you’re male or female. It’s also very dangerous. When troops are in the middle of battle and someone gets injured, they enter the “killzone” to treat the patient. SPC Miles shared about a tough situation that she encountered.

“It was scary,” Miles said. She was taking care of a patient who was injured by an RPG in the undercarriage of his seat in a Humvee. “When it blew up, he had shrapnel on his lower back all the way down to his upper knees,” she said. “I was trying to take care of him all the way back, but we kept continuously getting hit for about 10 kilometers.”

In the attack, in which Miles was injured, she was going in and out of consciousness. Because of the loss of consciousness, Davies said that Miles was evacuated to Bagram Air Base and then on to Germany to check for possible TBI.

“That’s something that we’re seeing a lot of,” he said. “The Army had just come up with a plan that everybody in the entire Army had to have MTBI and PTSD training, and we gave that training,” Davies said.

According to Davies, during the month that they were conducting the training, about half of the 26 casualties evacuated, had some form of mild TBI. Army medics throughout Afghanistan and Iraq are encountering similar difficulties, and Miles’ attitude is pretty common among them.

“I’m just doing my job,” Miles said. “Unfortunately we dont’ have the number of males needed or required… and I couldn’t leave my guys, so I asked the doctor if I could return back to country.”

While many don’t understand the type of dedication and sense of duty, that would lead someone who’d already been injured twice, to ask to return to the warzone, it’s a frequent occurance… one that occurs more often than not. SPC Miles is yet another of the unspoken Heroes of this war, who’s sense of honor and duty, motivate them to return to the fight and finish the job that they started.


God And Country: The Untold Stories Of The American Military

November 28, 2007

Lately, the movie industry has bombarded us with their anti-war, anti-Troops sentiments in recent movies that have been released. Apparently most of the country, is not real impressed with their product, as they’ve not done well in the box office. I’ve not watched any of them and doubt that I will. Many of these movies, depict our Troops as blood thirsty thugs and murders and even go so far, as to imply that their belief is that those who refuse to serve are heroes in their eyes. We know better and thankfully, a director/producer feels the same way that we do.

I was recently contacted about a new movie that is in the works about our Troops and the fantastic humanitarian work that they do in other countries. Things we don’t hear about in the media. Things like handing out toys, clothing and candy to the children, providing medical care to the citizens of the country, rebuilding vital resources for cities and towns, and the list could go on and on. These types of things, that are accomplished on a daily basis by our Troops are ignored by the media, but one film producer/director hopes to change that. He hopes to highlight the long-standing tradition of humanitarian service, that our military has, in the soon to be released movie God And Country. The types of things highlighted in this movie, are the things that we’ve been telling our readers about, the accomplishments of our Troops, that help to enable the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, to stand on their own and take charge of their country. The acts of kindness, go a long way in establishing a trusting relationship with the citizens and it’s a task that our Troops gladly tackle.

American troops have a long and noble tradition of humanitarian service. From handing out candy bars and care packages to street children, to offering medical and dental care to the poor, to building churches and orphanages in third world countries… these American men and women commit thousands of hours to the service of others around the world, without expectation of gratitude or praise. GOD AND COUNTRY examines these heroes and their missions, and reveals a side of the military rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The film also profiles the extraordinary character of Bradley T. “Brad” Arms, a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother at the University of Georgia who enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and ultimately gave his life so that others may live free of tyranny. Brad was a Marine, but also a man of strong faith who dedicated his life to the service of his fellow man.

Producer/Director Scott Mactavish is a former Hollywood insider and US Navy veteran, who left LA to make films that counterpunch the typical liberal media agenda.

GOD AND COUNTRY is a direct rebuttal to the films put out by Brian DePalma, Mark Cuban and the other Hollywood ‘elite’. The film is due to be released on December 15th. You can pre-purchase a copy of the movie, by going to the God And Country website. From what I’ve read, this movie will show our Troops in action, as they go about their day, helping the Iraqi and Afghani people, as well as people of other countries around the world. This is a movie that will definitely be on my “must see” list and I hope it will be on yours as well.

God And Country

Hope For Heroes

November 27, 2007

We’ve heard a lot about the unseen war injuries coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. PTSD and TBI can be stressful, not only for the Soldier who is struggling to deal with these injuries, but their family members as well. While the Military and the VA are doing a lot to ensure that Soldiers and their families are educated about the signs and symptoms of these injuries, as well as striving to ensure that appropriate care is available, we’re seeing that the military and VA health care systems are overloaded. Often times, Troops have a lengthy wait, before they are able to receive treatment, when, often, time is of essence. In communities across the country, mental health care providers are stepping up to the plate and doing what they can to fill the gap and ensure that our Troops receive the care that they need in a timely manner.

One such program, Hope For Heroes, which was recently launched by the Samaritan Center for Counseling and Pastoral Care in Austin, TX, Georgetown, TX and San Marcos, TX. In their Hope For Heroes program, they hope to provide necessary mental health care to Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan AND family members. The Samaritan Center, recently received a $300,000 two-year grant from the Texas Resources for Iraq and Afghanistan Deployment (TRIAD) of the San Antonio Area Foundation. The grant is designed to allow Samaritan Center to send outreach counselors out to provide mental health services in homes, churches and other non-traditional settings for military families located in Williamson, Travis and Hays counties of Texas, at NO CHARGE.

This program is the first of it’s kind in the Austin-metro area. Even though the military is strongly encouraging servicemembers to seek help for these problems, often times, due to the stigma attached to seeking mental health services in the military and the fear by many servicemembers that if they do so, it will harm their military career, many servicemembers chose instead to not seek the help they need. The services that are provided by Samaritan Center are completely free to the servicemember and their family and the treatment and services are confidential.

I’m really excited about this program and the similar program at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas that I wrote about on November 15th. It’s great to see these community organizations becoming involved in ensuring that our returning Troops receive the care that they deserve and so desperately need.

Please take some time to visit the Samaritan Center’s website and learn more about their Hope For Heroes program.

Samaritan Center for Counseling and Pastoral Care

Partnership Creates Educational Opportunities For Troops

November 26, 2007

The current rate of deployments makes it extremely difficult for a Soldier to enroll in and complete their college education. Many times, they begin taking a course, only to deploy in the middle of the semester, thus having to drop out of their classes. A new program developed by the Army’s TRADOC and 10 educational institutions, is aimed at making that obstacle one that won’t deter a Soldier from obtaining a college education. This is beneficial, not only to the Soldier, who then has marketable education and job skills when he enters the civilian workforce, but for the Army as well, by providing them with better educated Troops.

On Tuesday, November 20th leaders from several higher education institutions and the Army’s TRADOC, came together at Fort Monroe, Virginia to discuss the Army’s new “College of the American Soldier” and how their institutions could help, by creating a partnership with the Army. The partnership will promote the education of Soldiers through the Noncommissioned Officer Education System. Their goal is to provide Soldiers with the opportunity to obtain their Bachelor’s Degree with minimal obstacles. As we all know, frequent deployments can wreak havoc with a Soldier’s plans to attend college to obtain their degree. Currently there are 10 Colleges who are participating in the program. They are:

Coastline, Barstow, Limestone and Thomas Edison State who are offering Associates Degrees through the program. In addition, Thomas Edison College, Austin Peay, Franklin, Limestone, Park, Strayer, Maryland and Empire State, offer Bachelors Degree programs.

“This program will not only benefit Soldiers, but serves the best interest of institutions as well,” said Gen. William S. Wallace, TRADOC commander. “Improving civilian-education opportunities for Soldiers throughout the their military careers helps promote the ideal of lifelong learning and extends the pursuit of knowledge well beyond a Soldier’s service commitment.”

According to officials, the program is designed to maximize the potential of a Soldier’s college credits based on their military training and education. It’s realistic that a Soldier would be able to obtain their Bachelor’s Degree before they reach retirement age. College representatives in attendance at the meeting were able to see a large amount of support from Command Sgt. Maj. John Sparks and other military officials who were present.

Colleges who participate in the program will certify the amount of credit up front that will be applied to a career noncommissioned officer degree, based on the American Council on Education’s credit recommendations. This program is also designed to assist the NCO to assess their progress towards obtaining their degree.

Through the “College of the American Soldier” the Soldier can link with a portal called the Army Career Tracker. This will show the Soldier a specific “map” towards their degree goals. They will be able to see what programs from basic Officer Education System courses will transfer as equivalent credit at any time.

“If Soldiers can see the benefits of the program up front, they’re much more likely to do it,” CSM Sparks said.

Not only will this program benefit the Soldier, but the NCO Corps as well, by developing a lifelong-learning strategy for a warrior leader development program. Not only will the program increase the scope of military training and education materials being evaluated for college credit, it will also result in limiting the residency requirements at participating colleges. The program is flexible with no time-limit for completion. This is extremely helpful with the rate of deployments that are occurring at this time. The program is designed as well, to benefit the Soldier, whether he or she choses to make a career of the military or not.

“It is better for the armed forces because they are more educated, and if they leave the armed forces more educated, it is better for America,” said TRADOC deputy commanding general, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz. “I believe it is a win-win situation.”


Deployed Troops To Receive A Charlie Brown Christmas

November 25, 2007

Christmas is an important time of year for most of us. Our children, of course look forward to Christmas and “Santa” arriving via the chimney to deliver gifts to all the good little boys and girls. Here in the US, Christmas is a time for families to get together and celebrate the holiday according to their traditions. For Christians, it’s a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time of joy and fellowship and a time of year that most of us look forward to. In most American homes, a symbol of the season, is the Christmas tree. Last year at Christmas, I sent Marty a small decorated artificial Christmas tree, just to make sure that a little bit of home was there with him. Though I won’t have to worry about that this year, as he’ll be back home soon, there are many others who won’t be, due to their deployment.

But what about our Troops, who are deployed so far away from home during the Holiday season? It’s obvious that they’re unable to be home for Christmas to share the holiday traditions with their families. It’s a time of year that our deployed Soldiers miss terribly. One father of a Soldier, decided that he’d try to send a little bit of home to his deployed daughter and her fellow Troops.

In September 2006, Jim Ward’s daughter, Spc Luisa Gonzalez deployed to Iraq, Jim realized that this would be the first Christmas that his daughter wouldn’t be home and would be unable to share in the family tradition of cutting down their Christmas tree. So, Jim decided that he’d send Christmas to her. He attempted to send her a full sized, decorated Christmas tree. The US Postal Service, however, had other ideas, as the tree exceeded their height and weight restrictions. But he wasn’t about to give up and came up with an alternative plan.

“I was sitting around one night thinking about it and I don’t know why, but Charlie Brown popped into my head, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute. I got it,’” he said, picturing the scrawny two-foot tall tree featured in the holiday episode of Peanuts.

After searching for a bit, Mr. Ward found a vendor in North Carolina and purchased 75 miniature potted Alberta spruce pine trees. The trees cost him $20 apiece and that included lights, ornaments, as well as the cost of shipping them to Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, Jim Ward has founded Operation Christmas Tree, which is a nonprofit foundation he started after he shipped the trees last year. This year, Operation Christmas Tree is preparing to ship 5,000 of the trees to the Troops in the war-zone.

“We don’t need it to be a full-sized tree, it’s the spirit of it, the tree itself that matters,” said Ward of Westminster, Maryland, who will host a tree packing event on December 1st, with the assistance of dozens of donors, including Representative Roscoe Bartlett.

For Jim Ward, the best part of Operation Christmas Tree, for him this year, is that his daughter won’t be receiving one of the Christmas trees, as she’s due to return to Fort Hood, Texas at the end of November.

If you’re interested in assisting in Operation Christmas Tree, please take the time to visit the organization’s website.

Army Times

Despite Injuries, Soldier Chose To Remain In Iraq

November 21, 2007

Many people who aren’t in the military or familiar with it, often wonder why some of our Troops stay in the warzone, even when they have they opportunity to return home early. They don’t understand the special bond, the comrarderie that develops between the Troops, when your in a place where your life is constantly on the line. Many people don’t understand why thousands of our Troops, stand up and reenlist in the military, in the warzone.

One Soldier recently had the opportunity to return to the United States, to recuperate from injuries sustained during a rocket attack, that left 2 other US Soldiers dead. Despite being injured severely enough to require two surgeries, Sgt. Cindy Flores made the choice to remain in Iraq with her unti to recuperate, instead of returning to the United States.

Flores, from Company D, 4th “Guns” Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, received wounds from shrapnel in the incoming rocket attack. She had been taking a break from her duties as an aircraft armament and electrical systems repair specialist, when she heard the words “Incoming! Incoming!” being shouted.

Her training took over, as she quickly moved inside a bunker, before she even realized that she’d been hit. Her injuries required her to be airlifted to Balad for the first of two surgeries. A fellow Soldier, Staff Sgt. Sean Harris, recalls how calm Sgt. Flores was, as he administed frist aid to her, after the attack.

“She pretty much just turned to me calmly and said, ‘I think I have a hole in my leg,’” Harris said.

According to Flores, making the decision to stay in Iraq during her recuperation, instead of coming back to the United States, was the best decision she could have made.

“It was the people I work with,” Flores said. “Before I even left here, they gave me so much support - I knew with their help I could pull through. They gave me the strength that I needed.”

With a projected recovery time of about 6 weeks, she returned to Camp Taji to begin her rehabilitation in earnest. Initially she could barely walk. Her recuperation has progressed to the point that on October 30th, she was able to walk across the outdoor stage, to receive her Purple Heart from 1st Cav Air Brigade commander Col. Daniel Shanahan. As he presented her with her Purple Heart, Shanahan stressed to everyone in attendance, how her life will be forever changed.

“She carries the scars today… and part of that weapon is inside her and will be with her for the rest of her life,” Shanahan said. He then went on to describe the magnitude of the meaning of the award, and the sacrifices of the awardees. “Those great Soldiers gave a piece of themselves for this great nation of ours,” Shanahan said.


The Last Graduate

November 20, 2007

I’ll tell you right from the start…. have a box of tissues ready, because this will definitely cause those tears to flow. In the tiny town of Spade, Texas, May 2006 with it sadness, but more importantly, the chance to honor a Korean War Hero. May 2006 was the very last graduating class of Spade High School and the graduating Seniors, felt it was only fitting to honor a War Hero from Spade, who had never graduated, because he quit school, joined the military and went to Korea, where he was captured, held prisoner and eventually shot and left for dead. Sherman Jones, that Hero, was the very last graduate to walk across the stage that night, thus making him the last graduate ever, at Spade High School. What a way to honor a true Hero.

Going To Be Away A Few Days

November 19, 2007

No, Marty’s not home yet, but I have to make an emergency trip to Kansas. My mom is not doing well, so myself and my youngest son are leaving for Kansas shortly. Please keep my mom in your prayers. I’ll check back in, as time allows.

I do have a couple of posts, written in advance that will post over the next couple of days, so the news will continue to flow here, at least for a couple of days.

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