Fort Riley, Kansas

 

News

AW2 provides resources to those in need

By Julie Fiedler | POST | February 12, 2014

Navigating the medical or physical evaluation board process can be a daunting task. In addition to working toward recovery from an illness or injury, Soldiers are faced with a pile of paperwork, numerous appointments and question after question.

“What’s going to come next? What’s going to happen when you medically retire? When do you get your ratings back?” asked Deana Perry. “You need to go and talk to (someone) about school and education options. You need to go and work on your resume. You need to do all these things.”

Seriously ill or injured Soldiers, whether assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion or a different unit, have a place to turn: the Army Wounded Warrior program, or AW2.

Located in the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Building 674, AW2 provides resources for Soldiers, veterans and their family members or caregivers as they navigate the process.

“We’re here,” said Patricia Walker.

Perry and Walker, Soldier and family advocates, comprise the local AW2 team.

AW2 is a Department of the Army program designed to assist severely wounded, injured and ill Soldiers, veterans and their families or caregivers with recovery and reintegration or transition, with an ultimate goal of getting them to a state of self-sufficiency, according to Perry.

“AW2 offers very personalized support and assistance to these Soldiers and veterans,” Perry said. “We work with their chain of command, with nurse case managers on specific Soldiers’ issues … We collaborate with them to resolve issues, to provide resources, to assist them in whatever issues they may be having.”

“Say you don’t know what your education benefits are. We’re going to assist you with that and guide you to where you need to go,” Walker added. “Say your spouse is having a lot of problems. We also assist family members as well. She doesn’t understand (traumatic brain injury). She doesn’t understand why her Soldier has changed so much. We’re going to refer her to agencies that can help her understand that.”

AW2 points Soldiers to available benefits and resources, like financial services, educational opportunities and Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System facilities to ensure continued access to services on post like the commissary.

“It is very, very difficult when you transition. It is hard. And, you are scared. And, there is so much coming at you at once that you’re totally overwhelmed,” Walker said. “Our goal is to make sure that they’ve reached out to a financial counselor, that they’re aware of what’s going to happen when they get to the end of the MEB (or) PEB process, and that they’re not feeling so overwhelmed with the whole transition.”

ONGOING FOLLOW-UP

Whether a Soldier stays active duty or transitions out of the military, AW2 also provides ongoing follow-up, tapering off from monthly contact to quarterly to every six months – until the Soldier has found stability on the path to independence, Walker said.

“In between that time, if they’ve got an issue, they’ll give us a call,” Perry added. “They will always have that reach back to the program – whether it’s us as individuals or the (AW2) call center.”

That ongoing follow-up distinguishes AW2 from some Army-embedded resources, especially for Soldiers transitioning out of the Army.

“Once the Soldier leaves the military, there really is no overlap anymore of the services that are provided,” Walker said.

With about 200 advocates located throughout the country, Soldiers, veterans and their caregivers have a place to turn, no matter where they settle, she added.

Soldiers also are welcome to stay in touch with the local team.

“We build such strong bonds with our Soldiers and their families that they always call us back,” Walker said. “So, if there’s an issue, they know that we’re the one stability that they have.”

For Perry and Walker, advocating for Soldiers, veterans and caregivers is personal. Both know first-hand how difficult the transition can be.

As a military spouse, Walker felt confused, isolated and lost when her husband was wounded.

“We were lost. We were alone. There were no services. There was no help. There wasn’t anyone calling us, asking us if we needed anything. I don’t ever want any of my Soldiers and families to feel the way I did when my husband was injured,” she said. “I don’t ever want my Soldiers and their families to feel like they’re alone … Because they’re not alone. You don’t have to be alone. We’re here.”

SOLDIER’S PERSPECTIVE

Perry’s perspective as a former military member provides an invaluable balance, Walker added.

“I have a Soldier’s perspective on the process, on transitioning out of the military, how scary and stressful that is. There’s a lot of things you don’t know,” Perry said. “I get personal satisfaction by being able to arm these Soldiers with information, so that they can go out and do what they need to do for themselves and their families, (and) pointing them in the right direction.”

Perry and Walker both understand it can be difficult to ask for help. Instead, they look at it as Soldiers telling the pair what they need.

“There’s a difference,” Walker said. “They don’t ask for help … You tell us what you need, and we’re going to help you clear the path for you, so you understand what needs to be done.”

Perry and Walker are available to answer questions and also can provide briefings to leadership about AW2.

AW2 has certain eligibility requirements based on Army disability ratings from MEB process.

For more information, visit http://wtc.army.mil/aw2.

For questions about AW2 at Fort Riley or eligibility, call 785-239-8361 or 785-770-5096.