Army identifies hundreds of injured soldiers eligible for new support program
November 12, 2004
ARLINGTON, Va. — Just seven months into a new Army program to give one-on-one, long-term help to severely injured combat veterans, program officials have identified about 880 soldiers who are potentially eligible for the assistance, according to Col. Robert H. Woods, director of the Army’s Human Resources Policy Directorate.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon, Woods said that the “Disabled Soldier Support System,” or DS3, as the program is called, has conducted interviews with 232 of those 880 soldiers, and is now preparing to hire social workers who will link them with the many government and private programs already in place to assist them.
“We will never forsake a fallen soldier,” he said.
DS3 kicked off in April at the Army’s headquarters in the Pentagon, in a joint announcement with Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for lifetime medical care for injured veterans.
The program is geared toward soldiers with a disability rating of 30 percent or greater, including amputees, severe burn cases and other grave injuries received as a result of combat actions after Sept. 11, 2001, Woods said.
DS3 will team disabled soldiers with an advocate who will monitor the veteran for a minimum of five years, “providing direct support to soldiers and their families as they deal with the initial injury” and later, get on with their lives and careers, whether military or civilian, Woods said.
The program began with $1 million in start-up funds, but Congress added significantly to that pot in the Pentagon’s fiscal 2005 budget, setting aside $4.5 million in fiscal 2005 for DS3, according to Col. Jacqueline Cumbo, chief of the Army’s Human Factors Division.
With that money, program managers are preparing to hire the first of the 47 caseworkers that program managers intend to have in place “by the start of the new year,” to assist the pilot group of 232 soldiers, Woods said.
“We’re looking for ‘gentle giants’ who are willing to make phone calls and knock down doors” when their soldiers run into bureaucratic difficulties, Woods said.
DS3 officials are aiming for a ratio of one caseworker for every 30 veterans, though that ratio may change as the program matures, Woods said.
The program already has a two-person DS3 office located at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, where virtually all of its eligible participants end up for advanced health care and rehabilitation.
Although the program is still in the developmental stages, some soldiers have already benefited from its efforts, Woods noted.
One of those soldiers is Sgt. Michael Cain, a former transportation specialist with the 4th Infantry Division’s 299th Engineers in Tikrit, Iraq.
Cain, a Berlin, Wis., native, said the DS3 program “has done a damn good job” of helping him since he lost a leg to an anti-tank mine on Aug. 10, 2003.
Cain said he would have died had the fire from the mine’s blast not cauterized the blood vessels in his severed right leg before fellow soldiers could “cut the door off to get me out of the vehicle.”
He was evacuated first to a U.S. military combat support hospital in Baghdad, then to the Army medical center at Landstuhl, Germany, but did not regain consciousness until several days later, when he was at Walter Reed.
Cain was at Walter Reed for three months, during which time members of the DS3 program assisted in bringing first his parents, then his wife to Fisher House, the residence where relatives of injured servicemembers stay when wounded soldiers are at the hospital, he said.
Cain, who now lives in Gladstone, N.D., with his wife Leslie and month-old son Desmond, said his experiences at Walter Reed have led him to decide to go to college to become a physical therapist so he can help other amputees.
It is soldiers like Cain, Woods said, that inspire DS3’s staff to keep pushing the program forward.
“Every generation has its heroes,” Woods said, adding Cain and those like him “are this generation’s heroes.”
For more on DS3, go to: www.ArmyDS3.org or call (800) 833-6622. Disabled soldiers seeking job leads can go to www.ds3soldierconnection.army.mil.