As a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many severely wounded Soldiers and Marines are medically evacuated to Military medical facilities. Because the military medical system excels in saving lives – the “save rate” exceeds 90%, unprecedented in modern warfare – the number of critically wounded soldiers also is unprecedented. In addition to the trauma of enduring lost limbs, many soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBl).
At any one time, there are hundreds of wounded outpatients recovering at military medical facilities, but only about 20% percent of those stay in the military. A significant number leave the service, transitioning into the Veterans Administration (VA) medical system, and then move into civilian life.
Walter Reed Nurse Case Managers – the nurses assigned to each Wounded Warrior – are responsible for holistic care, from injury to wellness. While the ratio of Case Managers to patients has improved to 1:18 from around 1:50, Case Managers do not have the time or resources to provide the one-on-one assistance needed to help the soldier make either the transition to a productive civilian life or to a new military career.
Recognizing this shortfall, four members of the West Point Class of 1958, led by Lee Miller and including Pete Brintnall, John Herren, and Bob Tredway, started an informal program in November 2004 to help Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (“Walter Reed”) focus on life after the military.
The program began by helping wounded Soldiers and Marines evaluate their education alternatives. It quickly became apparent that much more needed to be done. And, as word got out about the program, the demand for the program quickly outstripped the resources available.
In response to the need and increasing demand, the original group reached out to the West Point Class of 1961 for additional Mentors. As the program grew, it attracted Mentors from other West Point Classes, graduates of other services’ academies and other Veterans.
Over the years there have been over 700 Wounded Warriors successfully transitioned by the over 600 trained Mentors.
While the Mentor program at Walter Reed is highly successful, its organizers quickly realized that Wounded Warriors continued to face significant problems after they left Walter Reed. At home or in VA hospitals, they are without fellow warrior buddies and in strange and not necessarily understanding environments. Warriors and family members frequently called their Walter Reed Mentors for a wide range of reasons, including seeking advice on medication addiction, or to ask the Mentor for help because the soldier or Marine remains isolated in his/her room and the parents do not know where to turn.
This situation led WWMP to institute its Follow-On Mentor Program, whereby a volunteer Mentor located in or near a Wounded Warrior’s home town is paired with the warrior and continues to provide the kind of one-to-one advice, guidance that Mentors at Walter Reed and other military care facilities provided. Predictably, the Follow-On Mentor Program is an increasingly vital part of the mentor effort.
While WWMP works primarily with Wounded Warriors in military medical facilities in the National Capital Area, WWMP has worked with other volunteers to establish programs modeled after WWMP at military medical facilities in other areas of the country.