In 2008, the Office of Wounded Warrior Care & Transition Policy was created within the Department of Defense. It's mission: to ensure wounded, ill, injured and transitioning servicemembers receive high-quality services and seamless transition support through leadership, responsive policy, effective oversight and interagency collaboration.
To ensure servicemembers receive excellent services, the office isn't opposed to receiving assistance from outside groups. During The American Legion's recent Policy Coordinating and Action Group meeting in Washington, Koby J. Langley from the Wounded Warrior Care office openly solicited the Legion's help.
Langley, a senior advisor to the under secretary of Defense, Personnel and Readiness, said one of the big challenges facing the transition process is when servicemembers leave the military and head into some sort of academic setting. That process, and knowing exactly what education benefits they're entitled to, is an area where Langley said the Legion can help.
"The social dynamics were considerably different (following World War II). Community participation and appreciation was significantly different during World War II than there is today," he said. "So there are some challenges integrating these soldiers and socializing their experiences into the academic environment.
"One thing the Legion can assist with ... that can have a great impact is educating active-duty servicemembers on the transferability option of the GI Bill. This is something the government can't do. Educating the servicemember that he has that option would be something of a great benefit to the department, and I think it would be a great benefit to the servicemember."Another area where the DoD can use the Legion's help is in job placement efforts within DoD and other federal agencies.
"At the end of the day, the Legion ... has a great insight into the capabilities of returning servicemembers," Langley said. "You all are basically the front line when a soldier comes back and says, ‘I need some help with my health benefits, I need some help with my disability benefits, I need some help transitioning into a job.' To a great extent, the involvement that you have on a one-on-one basis with a servicemember is almost like a career counselor. Your insight into what the servicemember can and can't do within the Department of Defense and other federal agencies is unique in that a great number of Legion members are also combat veterans. Everyone has obviously served, and (the Legion) knows what the needs of the organization are - particularly the Department of Defense.
"You're coming at it from two points. You know what the servicemember can offer. You know, to a certain extent, what the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies need in terms of manpower. Recommendations for ... placement for those wounded warriors would be very valuable."
During his presentation, Langley touched on three primary programs within the office: the Disability Evaluation System (DES) pilot, the Recovery Coordination Program and the Transition Assistance Program. The Recovery Coordination Program, a joint VA-DoD effort, is in place at 41 locations and helps coordinate and access federal, state and local programs, benefits and services for seriously wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and their families through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.
Langley said the Transition Assistance Program - a collaborative effort between DoD, VA and the departments of Homeland Security and Labor - is undergoing its first overhaul in 20 years. "We're looking at a TAP program for the 21st century," he said. The goal, Langley said, is an integrated system that delivers both face-to-face and through a virtual communication system.
Langley also went into detail on the DES pilot program, which was created to implement a faster disability review process. The pilot program replaces separate VA and DoD medical exams with a single, comprehensive exam and single-sourced disability rating.
Langley said the process is working, noting that since its launch in November 2007, the average day from enrollment to a VA benefits decision is 287 days - a 44 percent improvement on the previous average.
The program is in place at 27 sites; all remaining sites will begin using it in fiscal 2011. Nearly 11,000 servicemembers have been enrolled through it.