Wounded Warriors Report Improvements in Care Continuity

At the second annual USO Wounded Warrior and Family Caretakes Conference in Fayetteville, N.C., I had the rare opportunity to listen to the concerns of some of America’s most severely wounded troops, their families, and their caregivers.

A common concern quickly bubbled to the surface: continuity of care.

“The military case managers are great and did a lot for us in the beginning,” said Luana Schneider, caretaker of her severely wounded son, Army Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson. “But they were handling multiple cases and didn’t have the nationwide reach and tape-cutting abilities we needed for continued, specialized care when we got back home.

“The real savior for us has been our federal recovery coordinator,” added Schneider. “It’s a fairly young program with limited resources, but it’s become critical to us to have someone who knows Scott and his medical history. Without someone to coordinate and do some of the administrative legwork for us, we would be lost out there in Kansas where there are no VA surgeons specializing in burn treatment.”

The Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP) is a VA program that provides support for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of those wounded warriors dealing with what the VA considers “catastrophic” injuries, such as severe burns, amputations, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.

Each coordinator develops an individual recovery plan with input from the multidisciplinary heath care team, the veteran, and their family or caregiver. They track the care, management and transition of recovering veterans all the way through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the civilian world.

Stephenson didn’t have a “designated red-tape cutter” when he get out of the hospital in 2007, but according to his mom, it was his specialized needs that helped launch the program just one year later. His coordinator has since been working behind the scenes to get him the highest level of care by the top surgeons in the field of burn care and management.

“I truly believe I’ve received the best care possible with the technology available at the time,” said Stephenson.

“I was actually pretty impressed when I researched and visited the top civilian burn surgeon out in California to see what he could do about getting me a prosthesis,” said Stephenson. “When I mentioned my surgeon was Dr. [Steven E.] Wolf, he looked at me with wide eyes and said, ‘Son, burn surgeons don’t come any better than Dr. Wolf.’ That made me feel like I was really being cared for by the best, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Health care professionals like Dr. Wolf continue to learn from our combat wounded to improve the treatment of unique combat burn injuries, and the VA continues to improve programs like FRCP to give veterans the continuity in care expected from the most medically advanced country on Earth.

In addition to burn care, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury also continues to develop best practices for case management in its own field.

In fact, on Thursday, Sept. 22, DCoE will hold a public webinar on that very subject. The session is free and open to the public. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer