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Wounded warrior program continues assisting Airmen and their families

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force leaders remain committed to the service's top investments: Airmen and their families.

In support of a Defense Department initiative to return wounded warriors to productive military service or civilian life, Air Force officials here have revised several personnel policies. These policies afford seriously wounded Airmen additional opportunities despite having suffered significant wounds of war, according to the Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel.

"Our wounded warriors have much to share with their fellow Airmen," said Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III. "Their battle-tested experience and ability to overcome, sometimes extreme adversity, make them valuable members of our Air Force team. Those who want to stay a part of our Air Force will be offered every opportunity to remain on active duty."

The policy change focuses on classification, promotions, evaluations, retraining and retention. It allows wounded Airmen to continue their careers and compete for promotion while undergoing treatment and rehabilitation. Those Airmen who are no longer able to continue in their career field, due to disqualifying conditions, will be afforded priority retraining opportunities so they can continue contributing to the Air Force

"Our No. 1 goal is to keep these wounded warriors in uniform," said Maj. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, the former director of force management policy. "If needed, we are dedicated to transition them into a career field that meets with their talents ... to make a valuable contribution."

The road to recovery would be nearly impossible without the support system of many, to include the family liaison officers and the recovery care coordinators, he added.

An FLO is assigned to each wounded warrior, whether the Airman is being medical evacuated from an area of responsibility or other overseas location. FLOs help wounded warriors and their families in all aspects of their move from the point of departure to a hospital in the United States.

FLOs become a lifeline in a time of crisis. They arrange local transportation, assist with travel requests and emergency family travel orders, and answer questions and help with access to military facilities. Once the member is identified as a wounded warrior, the warrior care team begins providing assistance and services for five years after separation or retirement.

The recovery care coordinator is designed to be an "ultimate resource" for seriously wounded, ill or injured servicemembers. RCCs work closely with family liaison officers, patient liaison officers, medical case managers and a host of support agencies to ensure the right level of support and entitlements are delivered to recovering Airmen and eligible family members.

While family liaison officers remain a critical part of the team and share experiences with ill, injured and wounded Airmen, the RCC is trained to streamline processes and guide the member and their family through the non clinical recovery process, program officials said.

General Jones said the service is completely committed to the wounded member and has developed a comprehensive recovery plan to manage expectations.

"When we feel like we have given Airmen the maximum benefit of our medical care, they are then found fit for duty with no limitations, fit for duty with an assignment limitation status, or recommended not fit for duty, apply for an assignment limitation status to remain in the Air Force," General Jones said.

The assignment limitation status refers to assigning members where there is robust medical care, consistent with their physical condition, the general added.

"We really look at our care for wounded warriors as a solemn obligation," General Jones said. "We hope we have gone to the appropriate lengths to make sure whenever someone's injured and whatever their doing in today's fight ... that we take care of them."

Officials acknowledge 580 members in the wounded warrior program status, of which 120 are still on active duty. Some remain on active status in varying levels of their cases or awaiting separation or retirement. Sixteen have been returned to duty and five have been returned to duty with assignment limitations. More than 460 have chosen to separate rather than remain on active duty in some capacity.

Although Airmen have decided to separate from the Air Force to pursue other goals, they do not lose their wounded warrior status, the general said.

"The wounded warrior program is not just a care for you on active duty but a lifetime commitment," he said.

Senior leaders have designated July 2009 through July 2010 as the "Year of the Air Force Family," but they also maintain the need for a long-term commitment of care and attention to the physical health of Airmen. Health and wellness is one of the four pillars on which YOAFF is built, including Airmen and family support, education, development and employment and Airman and family housing.