About 120 service members and veterans who have suffered traumatic combat wounds requiring lifelong care have begun to see the benefits of having a Federal Recovery Coordinator assigned to help them.
These “FRCs” are still few in number. For the catastrophically wounded of current wars, they coordinate their care, their rehabilitation and their reintegration into society even if that difficult process lasts a lifetime.
Sarah Wade, wife of retired Army Sgt. Ted Wade who lost an arm and suffered traumatic brain injury in combat four years ago, said their FRC is making a difference by removing the bureaucratic hassles they have faced.
“One of the nice things is everything is their jurisdiction,” said Sarah about the FRC program. Often since Ted was wounded, issues had popped up related to his condition, or to the challenges the Wades faced as a family, and Sarah or Ted didn’t know who to contact.
“We had so many different people that a lot of time I didn’t know who to go to for what, or sometimes there would be gaps where pretty much what I was hearing across the board was ‘That’s not in my jurisdiction.’ ”
The person Sarah calls now is Daniel Bence, Ted’s FRC at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center. He has become a one-stop source for cutting through red tape and getting the Wades the support or answers they need.
“Like all of the federal recovery coordinators, my patients vary in injuries, from traumatic brain injury to amputations to burns to blindness to post-traumatic stress disorder,” Bence said. Adding later, “We are lifelong partners to the catastrophically disabled.”
Bence already had worked 33 years for the VA, and become an expert on blind rehabilitation, before he became an FRC, which is a joint VA-Defense Department program. His expertise now is shared with other FRCs whose severely wounded patients have visual impairments among multiple injuries.
Judy Hamrick, a family nurse practitioner and Navy veteran, also is an FRC at Bethesda. She was in the first small group trained for the program. Initial turnover was high, Sarah Wade recalled. Now Hamrick and Bence each have about 20 patients. Some of them live far away from Bethesda but the FRCs still track and facilitate their care or rehabilitation. They are in touch often with the veteran, the family, caregivers or rehabilitation team.
Sarah and Ted Wade, who have moved from North Carolina to a home near Bethesda, took time the other day to count how many case managers of one kind or another Ted has had since being severely wounded by an improvised explosive device in February 2004. Their answer: 21.
Establishing the FRC program was a recommendation last year of the President’s Commission on Care of America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, known also as the Dole-Shalala Commission. That panel reported more than 3,000 seriously wounded veterans might need the oversight of FRCs.
The program launched last January, however, remains quite small, with only eight FRCs serving 119 combat wounded veterans. Two more coordinators were in training when I interviewed the FRCs new director, Dr. Karen S. Guice, in September. Guice, a clinical professor of surgery, also served as deputy director of the Dole-Shalala panel.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org