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Transitioning battle-worn soldiers
Military health care
Winn Army Community Hospital Commander Col. John Collins discusses a recent Warrior Transition Battalion town hall meeting with Sgt. Eddie Cockel, a member of the South Carolina National Guard. - photo by Photo by Andrea Washington

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series detailing new steps the Army is taking to improve its healthcare system in response to the recent problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and complaints from soldiers and their families.

When Sgt. Eddie Cockel returned home from Iraq after suffering combat wounds that damaged one of his shoulders, he had already undergone a number of medical treatments and was expecting to have surgery once back from his deployment.
What the South Carolina National Guardsman did not expect was the formation of a new Army unit that specifically addresses his and the needs of thousands of other soldiers in the branch wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the wake of numerous reports detailing the shortcomings in healthcare services provided to injured troops, the Army is hoping to turn things around with its new Army Medical Action Plan that outlines innovative ways to provide better care to soldiers.

Warrior Transition Unit
And according to Winn Army Community Hospital Commander Col. John Collins, who took over after a July 12 change of command, the first and key step in this new direction is the creation of the Warrior Transition Unit.
The WTU is designed to assist wounded soldiers as they complete medical evaluations and prepare for a return to either active duty service or civilian life, depending on the severity of their injuries.
Helping soldiers along the way is a triad tasked with providing personalized care for each soldier.
“The key points in caring for our warriors here is that everybody is assigned a triad of a primary care manager, a nurse case manager and a squad leader,” Collins said. “And those three people, that team, is charged with taking care of all their needs, medical and all others — educational, interface with the Veterans Administration — to take care of each of these warriors.”
Activated Armywide on June 15, Fort Stewart’s WTU has been designated as a battalion on the installation because of the number of wounded troops expected to be assigned to the post, Collins said.
The battalion is currently comprised of more than 200 active duty, reserve and National Guard members from throughout the southeast region.
Lt. Col. Leonard Porter, the battalion's commander, said his 55-member cadre creates “a total atmosphere of healing” by handling appointments and working with other agencies on post on behalf of the soldiers, allowing unit members to focus on their health.

The separation from a regular unit where the soldier would still be required to complete certain training requirements is another bonus, he said.
“These soldiers in the transition battalion get all the support they need to heal and they don’t have the distraction of having to be put on details or have to be put on other kinds of distracting activities,” Porter said. “Their total focus is to heal. When they have appointments, those appointments come first. So, the atmosphere of healing is one of the better things in my view.”
Some battalion members are also provided housing in the unit’s modular homes behind Winn that are equipped with all the amenities of home, including refrigerators and televisions.
Collins said for a future compound to house the WTB staff and move them closer to soldiers on-site, the battalion has been given a block of buildings near the hospital to design into offices during the next few months. A recreation facility, including pool tables and other leisure equipment for soldiers, is also in the works.
Although most of the focus is on helping wounded soldiers as they prepare for life after healing, family members are also brought in to participate in the WTB’s monthly town hall meetings.
The forums allow both soldiers and family members to openly voice concerns about treatment and access or listen to new information from agency heads, VA representatives and subject matter experts.
Under the new Army Medical Action Plan, family members can also assist in a soldier's care by working as non-medical attendants, Porter said.
Fort Stewart’s WTB is off to a good start, minus the need for a few more employees, but the success of transition units around the country will depend on a continued effort to keep resources available, Collins said.
“This is a nation that’s having to deal with a whole generation of people, that would not have survived in previous battles, that have come back to us wounded and need our care,” the commander said. “It’s a whole nation waking up to a phenomenon ... so making sure we have the resources and processes (from the national level) at the local level to take care of them is going to be the key to success.”
For Cockel, the South Carolina guardsman who is now beginning his medical board evaluations as a member of the WTB, the battalion has been a welcome surprise on his road to recovery.
“From day one, when I got here, it was like home. I’ve had two surgeries since I’ve been here and the staff has been great,” he said. “I feel like transitioning is going to be even better for the future soldiers that are coming.”

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