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Reserve warrior transition units get liaisons

Nov. 12, 2012 - 09:12AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 12, 2012 - 09:12AM  |  
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The Army Reserve is putting liaison officers in warrior transition units across the country to help its soldiers better navigate their way to recovery.

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The Army Reserve is putting liaison officers in warrior transition units across the country to help its soldiers better navigate their way to recovery.

"I was hearing Army Reserve wounded warriors felt there was no one there to work for or represent them," said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve and commanding general of Army Reserve Command.

Reserve soldiers face different issues from their active-duty counterparts, and certain processes may be different for them than for active-duty soldiers, officials said.

The intent is to have the liaison officers complement the existing "triad of care" offered at the WTUs, said Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, director of Army Reserve human capital.

Wounded warriors assigned to a WTU already rely on their primary care manager, case manager and squad leader or the cadre assigned to the unit, she said.

"This is about leadership," Smith said. "Our soldiers are in good hands, but [Lt. Gen. Talley] just doesn't abdicate his responsibility as a leader just because these soldiers are in the Warrior Transition Command."

About 2,100 Reserve soldiers are assigned to both WTUs and community-based WTUs. About 1,420 are assigned to WTUs, and almost 700 are in the community-based WTUs. Reserve records show 935 of the 2,140 WTU soldiers have deployment histories. Of the 935, 92 were wounded in action.

The community-based units primarily serve Reserve and National Guard soldiers who don't need the day-to-day medical management provided by WTUs on active Army posts.

The plan is to put liaison officers in both types of warrior transition units, Smith said.

WTUs with large Reserve populations include Fort Bliss, Texas, with 103; Fort Hood, Texas, with 106; Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, with 106; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., with 106; Fort Bragg, N.C., with 74; and Fort Knox, Ky., with 104.

The Reserve already has 279 full-time soldiers assigned as cadre at the WTUs, Smith said. They serve as platoon sergeants or company commanders or first sergeants or squad leaders within the units, she said.

The liaison officers would augment that commitment, she said.

"They [the cadre] play a different role in how they interact with the wounded warriors as opposed to the LNOs," she said.

The Reserve, working closely with Warrior Transition Command, is still analyzing issues such as how many liaison officers it needs, where to put them and what types of skill sets they want in a liaison officer, Smith said.

"What we have observed is when soldiers are frustrated, it's often because they don't understand the administrative processes that accompany the medical processes," Smith said. "We're so dispersed that the Reserve-specific expertise doesn't reside in the WTU. It's not that people don't want to help. They sometimes just don't know what to do."

Early estimates show the Reserve will need 44 LNOs, and the Reserve likely will turn to soldiers who will be put on active-duty orders, Smith said.

Those selected for the job will undergo training on topics such as administrative processes and understanding medical evaluation, she said.

Another matter to resolve involves providing legal assistance to soldiers and their families.

"Some wounded warriors feel the bureaucracy is too much, so they hire private lawyers," Talley said. "[The Reserve] has a lot of lawyers, so I've tasked them to provide legal assistance to soldiers."

Part of the analysis includes whether the Reserve should put staff judge advocate liaison officers in the WTUs, or whether it's enough to provide reach-back capabilities to the LNOs and cadre at the WTUs who have a soldier who wants legal assistance, Smith said.

Smith hopes to have details sorted out and at least some of the LNOs in place during the second quarter of fiscal 2013, which begins Jan. 1, but her team is still refining the skill sets they need and identifying who might be best suited for the job, she said.

"There's a special mindset [in] working with wounded warriors," she said. "You have to be not only caring but also administratively rock-solid proficient in what you're doing to help these folks."

The goal is to make sure the Reserve assigns the right number of people with the right skills in the right locations, Smith said.

"We don't want to duplicate effort. We want to complement the effort that's already going on," she said. "We want to approach this with surgical precision, not blunt-force precision."

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