Thursday, November 13, 2008

Military to follow up with wounded vets

Military to follow up with wounded vets

By Gregg Zoroya - USA TODAY
Posted : Thursday Nov 13, 2008 6:20:28 EST

WASHINGTON — The military has launched a detective effort to find at least 2,300 veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how they are faring, and whether they are missing out on health and other benefits.

Army and Marine commanders says the outreach effort is due to several factors, including greater concern in these wars for long-term consequences of combat and more funding to get it done.

About 33,000 troops have been wounded in the two wars, but not all have been located or reached.

“We are trying to catch up to six years worth of war,” says Col. Gregory Boyle, commander of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.

Callers who reach these new veterans help eliminate red tape to resolve compensation and health care needs, educate veterans about new benefits and link them to resources or potential employers.

Congress last year authorized expanded efforts to manage cases and advocate for wounded service members leaving the military, at a cost of about $65 million, records show.

The outreach is so unexpected that some veterans ask if the service is trying to call them back to duty, says John Chavis, who directs a call center for the Wounded Warrior Regiment. ”We reassure them that’s not our intent,” he says.

The military is concerned that “some of its people may fall between a crack somewhere,” just as some Vietnam veterans ended up homeless, said historian Dale Smith of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Marines have contacted more than 6,000 current and former members, Boyle says. They are still looking for 1,871, Chavis says. The Army Wounded Warrior Program is searching for about 400 ex-GI’s they want to assist, but who have left the service, says Army Col. Jim Rice, the program director.

If callers determine that veterans have more complex problems, they ask advocates to visit them in person, Boyle says.

Maj. Jennifer Potter, a Marine reservist on active duty, has three dozen local Marine veterans she helps from her home in Columbus, Ohio. She can connect them with the Department of Veterans Affairs, local veteran service groups, employers, elected officials and key former Marines in the area.

”It makes us feel like somebody has our back and we’re not forgotten,” says one veteran on her list, former lance corporal Carl Schneider, of Cincinnati. He suffered severe burns to his hands and face in a roadside blast in 2005.

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