The 14-member Recovering Warrior Task Force meets periodically in Washington. Photo by Craig Roberts

Bringing a veteran's perspective to the table

“Frankly, I don’t see how that is going to work,” was how one member of the Recovering Warrior Task Force (RWTF) reacted as he viewed a presentation at the group’s recent meeting in Washington. The PowerPoint presentation he viewed was narrated by a deputy director of the Department of Defense/Department of Veterans Affairs Interagency Program Office (DoD/VA IPO). It concerned the two agencies’ work in tandem to develop and implement the Lifetime Virtual Electronic Record (LVER) system. The LVER is designed to, among other things, facilitate a smooth and coherent exchange of servicemembers’ service and medical records from DoD to VA, and streamline benefits claims processing while assuring timely and appropriate care for those transitioning from military to civilian life. 

The LVER is considered a linchpin in the RWTF’s campaign to achieve “seamless” transitions by servicemembers, especially those who have been wounded, ill or injured, from uniform to civvies and by those who are returning to full duty after medically mandated interruptions. It is the task force’s mission to quell the skepticism voiced by the aforementioned member by overcoming the obstacles to seamless transitions presented by the two gigantic and complex bureaucracies that are DoD and VA.

The Recovering Warrior Task Force was established by Congress last year and charged with providing “the Department of Defense with advice and recommendations on policies and programs relating to the care, management and transition of recovering servicemembers and their families. This review will include assessing the establishment, effectiveness and availability of support programs provided by the military service and DoD.” The RWTF has a four-year mission and is required to report its findings in detail to the secretary of defense annually. As of May, the task force has met four times.

Nearly a dozen presenters from military and veterans support agencies and advocates were seen by task force members during the most recent meeting. Among them was Brian Buckler, The American Legion’s representative at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. He discussed a disconnect and difference between DoD and VA policies and procedures in the Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board (MEB/PEB) process. MEB and PEBs are what help determine a servicemembers suitability for continued military service or eligibility for veterans benefits. Buckler’s presentation was lauded by Denise Dailey, executive director of the task force, for its comprehensiveness and excellence. 

The RWTF will meet again in a few weeks.

Among the 14-member task force is American Legion Past National Commander David K. Rehbein, a research scientist. Rehbein spoke with American Legion media about the task force.

The American Legion: This group was originally called the “Wounded Warriors Task Force.” Now it’s ‘Recovering Warriors.’ I take it there’s more to the name change than political correctness.

David K. Rehbein: Yes, there is because there is a very large percentage (of persons) in the warrior treatment units who are ill or injured – ill because they simply became sick on duty, (or) injured in training, injured in various accidents. It’s very difficult to look at two people currently in a wheelchair and determine which is the combat wounded and which is the guy injured in a training accident, unless one of them happens to be wearing a Purple Heart.

TAL: This task force consists of just 14 people and you are among them. How did that happen?

DKR: I’m assuming that it came at least partially through my service as national commander of The American Legion, but as to how my specific name was nominated for membership on this task force, I don’t know and I haven’t asked.

TAL: Do you think it may have had something to do with your academic and professional background in critical and analytical thinking?

DKR: Oh, I’m certain. The research scientist background helped quite a little bit, I’m sure. But, also, there are not a lot of us whose focus is “once the uniform comes off.” A lot of the folks still in service (are) focused on being soldiers. I’m focused on being a veteran, and that’s where all of them are going eventually. It’s just a matter of bringing that perspective to the group.TAL: Relating to this group’s formation, obviously there was some sort of problem identified by Congress.

DKR: There are many, many groups and organizations focused on specific aspects of the recovering warrior problem [regarding health care, employment and benefits]. This task force is mandated by Congress to look at all those services and programs and identify the gaps and make sure that it really is a seamless recovery back to health – recovery back into a successful life, recovery back into a military uniform or civilian job. But not to focus so specifically on one or two aspects that others get lost.

TAL: You are being presented with a mountain of data. What’s to be done with it?

DKR: There is to be a report written. That report will contain a number of recommendations. These won’t be final recommendations in many cases because this task force has another three years of life. So, in many cases they will be preliminary recommendations – places where maybe we need to have more data supplied to us. So, there will be a number of recommendations (but) we are trying to limit that number so that we don’t dilute our efforts. The report will be available sometime in September.

TAL: And there will be annual reports?

DKR: Yes, and part of the report that comes out in September will be a plan for our next year’s work so it will be evident to the public where we want to go from here.

TAL: So this is interactive. As the various stakeholders get feedback there will be progress made in filling the gaps?

DKR: Of course. One of the big gaps that I feel is important (to fill) is as folks come out of the warrior transition units we can do education, we can do vocational rehabilitation, we can get them prepared for a job. But, is that job there? How do we really successfully transition them into that job? It’s not enough just to educate somebody. Putting them into a job is also a major concern.