This is an “unofficial” run down on the current “situation” surrounding our wounded brothers and what the Marine Corps has recently done to “step up.”
The Situation – with our Wounded Marines:
A. The “Long War”:
While apparently no longer a “politically correct” term in congress or the media, the Marine Corps still refers to our current conflict as the “Long War.” As the title clearly implies, this conflict is not going away anytime soon – we have a legitimate enemy out there, who is set on our demise. As Gen. Conway stated in a speech last month, “we are seeing the first real battles (Iraq and Afghanistan), in what will be a generational struggle.” While improvements are being made in: counter IED measures, vehicles that can withstand mine and IED blasts and thicker skin for existing vehicles-Marines will unfortunately continue to be injured for some time to come, as we fight this war against extremists on varying fronts. As is often the case, the Marine Corps has suffered more than its share of wounded in Iraq-more than 7,700 of the total 28,000 wounded from all services.
B. What is going well in serving our wounded Marines:
1. Medical Care for Wounded Marines: Despite the media coverage this past spring, Marines wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are being very well cared for. From the moment they are injured, to their evacuation to Naval or Army Hospitals, to their follow-up treatment at Naval Facilities on base – generally, the care the wounded Marines receive is top-shelf.
2. The Marine Charities: The folks that operate the myriad of programs and Marine Charities are good folk, who have provided much aid. To name a few – Navy Relief, Marines for Life (MFL) and the folks who operate the charities that focus on assisting injured Marines and their families – such as, “Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund” (IMSFF) and “Hope for the Warriors” (HFTW). Millions of dollars have been raised and subsequently spent helping severely injured Marines/Sailors/Soldiers, in every way possible: scholarships for service members’ wives, top-notch wheel chairs for disabled Vets, hotel and food, cash for Marine Moms to use while in town for a son’s surgery, home renovations and the list goes on….
More than ever before, the charities that serve Marines are very financially relevant. They have the cash to help more Marines than ever before. Because of the worthy cause and “lean operations,” the American Public has been incredibly generous to our Marine Charities. If you add up the Total Revenue (or donations) collected by just 8 of the primary charities that support wounded service members/their families in 2005 alone, the number was staggering – over $83 million. Donors gave $6.7 million in 2005 to the IMSFF alone. The IMSFF states on their web site – “Since our inception in May 2004, through December 2006, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund has provided more than $12 million in assistance to our wounded heroes.”
Further, the Marine Charities have acted very admirably in keeping their overhead low and placing their money into the hands of those who need it. Below is a chart detailing the simple expense ratios (illustrating cost effectiveness) of two Charities that help wounded Marines:
The IMSFF, for example, has no fundraising expenses, very low “key player” salaries, low administrative expenses and a “free,” abundant labor force of capable volunteers. Both the IMSFF and HFTW financially operate considerably above the standards of a “Good Charity,” as laid out in the criteria provided by charity web service, “Charity Navigator.”
C. The concerning “Void” in service to our Wounded Marines:
1. The “Void”: Early last winter, I took some time to research the situation surrounding our wounded Marines. I had a series of discussions with: wounded Marines, Active Duty Marine Officers, Marine Charity Officers, Key Volunteers and other Marine Leaders. I also scoured the tax returns/finances of several of the prominent charities that serve wounded Marines. While my study was only as complete as reasonably possible for a Former Marine holding a full time job, I found only one disturbing trend – if there was a service niche not being filled in assisting injured Marines, then it lay with those wounded Marines, who chose to be treated back home, including: recovering Active Duty Marines and permanently disabled/discharged Marines. This past December, I spent an afternoon with Lt. Col Maxwell (OIC of the Wounded Warrior Barracks in LeJeune; a recovering wounded warrior). He stressed the difficulty in tracing the path that injured Marines take towards rehabilitation, since the paths are invariably different. However, he noted one key common element: once a Marine leaves his unit or a Marine Base, he is too often “on his own.” When I asked, Lt. Col Maxwell estimated that up to 40% of the combat injured Marines were off base and “lost/not being helped as they should.” Despite the fact that organizations, such as the Marine Corps League (MCL) and IMSFF have liaisons at Walter Reed, Brooke Medical and the Naval Hospitals and despite the various charity efforts to run “follow ups” with previously served wounded Marines – many Marines discharged early in the war and even those medically discharged relatively recently are now spread across the country and are “out of touch.” Many have needs unfulfilled. This past winter, a charity officer noted: we need to “find those Marines and their families who may have slipped through the cracks. Throughout the country, there are probably Marines who have been discharged due to their injuries, who are back at home, living a life that will never be quite the same and not really aware that they can have more mobility, more assistance, and overall higher quality of life.”
Key point – Every month that goes by, the % of injured Marines that are now discharged and at home/spread across America increases.
2. Complicating the situation: The Privacy Act
While the “Privacy Act” in itself is generally a good piece of legislation, it has been one of the primary obstacles keeping charities such as the MCL, IMSFF, HFTW from not only better cooperating, but also from reaching out to wounded Marines that are now located “off base.” Because of the Privacy Act, the Marine Corps has been unable to directly pass on to the charities – the names, home addresses and phone numbers of those wounded Marines, who chose to be treated back home (including recovering Active Duty Marines and permanently disabled/discharged Marines). This huge problem has been greatly limiting the amount of care and support given to our Marines.
D. Filling “the Void”/ beating the Privacy Act-The Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment:
This spring, the Marine Corps took what can only be called a huge, unprecedented and completely noble/outstanding step to counter the above-described “void.” On April 1, 2007 the Marine Corps stood up the first ever “Wounded Warrior Regiment” (WWR). The WWR is commanded by Colonel Gregory Boyle and is composed of two battalions – an east battalion (WWBN-E) at MCB Camp Lejeune, NC and a west battalion (WWBN-W) at MCB Camp Pendleton, CA. At a Pentagon briefing, Boyle defined the regiment’s main functions: to support Marines as they navigate the medical and physical evaluation boards; to help Marines with Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance claims; to refer Marines to charitable organizations for assistance; and to ensure accountability and nonmedical case management.
The Marine Corps had been providing support to our Marines in some of these areas prior to the regiment, yet as Col. Boyle states, “while there was unity of effort, there was not a unity of command.” With the WWR, one unit will be accountable for tracking down and meeting the needs of wounded Marines and their families. The regiment will have at its disposal the following resources to accomplish its mission – both wounded warrior battalions, District Injured Support Centers, the Marine for Life Program, VA Hospital liaisons and the patient administrative teams (PATs). Boyle expects the WWR to have 100 active duty and active Reserve Marines, some civilian personnel and 150 Individual Mobilization Augmentees (IMAs).
Currently, the Corps has more than 400 injured or ill Marines and Sailors on the regiment’s rolls. Yet the WWR realizes that most of the Marines seriously wounded since the start of the war are now discharged and spread across the country – and many still need help. To meet this need, the WWR is developing what are being called “District Injured Support Units” (DISU). These are 10 teams of two Marines, one Officer and one Staff NCO, whose job it will be to make monthly phone calls to offer assistance to Marines injured since 2001. Key point: The Marine Corps is wisely using its own personnel and thereby legally bypassing the legal restrictions imposed by the Privacy Act to directly assist or pass charity information on to Marines/ Former Marines spread across the country, who still need the help.
E. Our Legislators begin to act: The “Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act (WWA)”:
It appears our legislators will eventually be passing some significant legislation that will help all our wounded service members. Last week, the Senate Majority Leader released a statement saying that he would seek a floor vote on the “Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act, S. 1606” in the “coming days.” WWA would require the Secretary of Defense (SOD) and Secretary of the Veterans Administration (SVA) to develop a comprehensive policy by January 1, 2008, on the care, management and transition from the military to VA or civilian life of service members with combat-related injured or illnesses. Other provisions in the bill include:
- Authorizing medically retired service members to receive the active duty health care benefit for 3 years.
- Require the SOD, in consultation with the SVA, to develop a comprehensive plan or plans on prevention, diagnosis, mitigation and treat of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The bill would also authorize $50 million for improved diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of service members with TBI or PTSD.
- Establish a DOD/ VA Interagency Program Office to develop and implement a joint electronic health record system.
- Requiring the military departments to use VA standards to make disability determinations and prohibit deviation from VA standards – except to give the service member a higher disability rating.
- Provide respite care for family members who care for injured service members and an amendment to improve travel reimbursements for retired personnel seeking continuing medical treatment.
The Senate’s actions were very predictable, based on the media coverage and political pressure/public outcry on the “wounded warrior topic.”
F. President’s Commission Report: Dole/ Shalala:
1. The Study: In early July, 2007 Bob Dole and Donna Shalala finished a co-chaired study for President Bush – “Report of the President’s Commission on care for America’s returning Wounded Warriors.” The Co-chairs and their team of Commissioners don’t recommend “merely patching the system.” … Instead they have highlighted a need for “fundamental changes.” While it is not in the scope of this short paper to lay out the details, below are the changes outlined in the report:
- Create patient-centered Recovery Plans for each injured service member
- Completely restructure the Disability and Compensation Systems
- Aggressively prevent and treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury.
- Significantly Strengthen support for Families
- Rapidly transfer patient information between Dept of Defense and VA
- Support Walter Reed by recruiting and retraining first-rate professionals by 2011.
2. Key points, in my opinion, regarding the new legislation and also the Dole/Shalala study:
- It is fantastic news that both the legislature and the President are behind system reform for our wounded warriors – it will likely come.
- Yet “fundamental changes” will not happen instantly – WWA improvements will not even be in “plan form” until early 2008; the “recommendations” provided in the President’s Commission Report are quite loose and still a step away from text that resembles concrete solutions. So these actions will be no “quick fix” for our wounded Marines.
- In fact, many of the changes being recommended are huge, complicated and often involve coordination and cooperation between – Congress, the Dept. of Defense, VA and even the Public Health Service. Involving these bureaucracies will likely make “simplifying” the program a challenging task.
- In short, in my opinion: the Marine Corps, Former Marines and the charities acting together is still our best solution in serving our wounded Marines, until real changes occurs in the system.
G. The Charities: Exactly what they do
1. Quick Background/ What the charities currently do:
The charities that serve our wounded warriors are doing much to help our Marines and should be commended. Each charity is typically set up as a 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit. Characteristics of these organizations – they do not operate to generate profit; they are “tax exempt”; they are funded by donations or grants from charitable foundations. Their officers/founders typically have hearts of gold; they work hard.
Below is a list of major services being provided by a host of charities that serve Marines:
- Mobility equipment – such as Ibot wheelchairs and modified vans
- Transitional housing for Marines and married Marine Families
- Support for the Wounded Warriors Barracks
- Scholarships for Marine Spouses, Wounded Marines and children of wounded Marines
- Home modification – wheelchair accessibility
- Specialized equipment – based on a Marine’s disability
- Family Support/Defraying family expenses – during hospitalization/rehab.
- Therapeutic arts / Sports and outdoor programs for recovering Marines
- Counseling – grieving, PTSD, combat stress
- Post injury employment
- Providing care items to Marines in military trauma centers
- Lobbying effort for pro wounded vet legislation
2. Charity List
An incomplete list of other “Partner Charities” that specifically serve our wounded Marines and Soldiers:
– NAVY/MARINE CORPS RELIEF SOCIETY:
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 96%- MARINE CORPS LEAGUE:
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: n/a-INJURED MARINE SEMPER FI FUND:
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 96%-VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS-UNMET NEEDS PROGRAM:
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 95%-WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 76%-HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 91%-MARINE CORPS SCHOLARSHIP FOUNDATION
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 69%-HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 91%-HOMES FOR OUR TROOPS
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 75%-FISHER HOUSE
- % Total Expenses going to “Program Services”: 96%3. Footnotes:
A. Specific organization details on the Corps’ “Wounded Warrior Regiment” were taken from the June, 2007 issue of “Leatherneck Magazine.”
B. Specific details on the “Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act” were taken from the July, 26 issue of the Southwest Nebraska News.
C. Details on the Dole/Shalala Report were taken directly from the report.
- Brad Graft – Traverse City, MI – [email protected]
By Brad Graft