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Wounded Warrior Program goes beyond medical needs to provide support

  • Published
  • By J.D. Levite
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
The Air Force Medical Service provides medical care for Airmen, but sometimes they need  more than healthcare to be whole again. The Air Force’s Wounded Warrior Program leaves medical care to the AFMS and provides an entirely different, but still essential, kind of support to seriously wounded or ill Airmen. It’s not just about those wounded in combat, either, but can apply to Airmen dealing with severe traffic accidents or diseases like cancer.

“If they need assistance or need someone to help take the pressure off them so they can focus on healing, that’s what the program is designed to do,” said Tim Townes, the Air Force Warrior and Survivor Care Program Manager.

He said once an Airman is enrolled in their program, it’s their job to find out what his or her needs are. They look for things causing stress, such as personal issues or financial ones, and try to find solutions.

“In many instances, the Airman is being treated away from his or her home station and the family needs to travel to that location,” Townes said. “Our family liaison officers will support them, help them find lodging and transportation, and make sure they can get to and from the hospital or military treatment facility.”

Beyond just helping the families, the program also focuses on getting Airmen back and their feet. Large scale competitive games like the Warrior Games or Invictus Games are really popular and a good example of something wounded warriors can get involved In, but those aren’t the only focus for the program.

“We provide regional events that focus on caregivers, adaptive sports, education and employment programs, and several other rehabilitation programs for our members,” Townes said. “Through these activities, individuals can express their interests in a lot more than just competitive adaptive sports.”

He said they’re always looking for new avenues for rehabilitation, and not every wounded Airman is going to be interested in getting involved in the sports portion. The Wounded Warrior Program has several healing arts rehabilitation programs including music therapy or comedy therapy.

“We also provide specific activities for caregivers to focus on themselves and the skills they need because we recognize the fact that they, too, have to provide for themselves and take care of themselves.”

There is also a program called the Recovering Airmen Mentorship Program that offers Airmen who have been enduring a serious situation for a while to get training to become mentors to help others just starting a care plan for their own wounds or illnesses.

“It gives our Airmen just facing the challenge of recovery and rehabilitation someone to talk to who has been there and done that,” Townes said. “We take a lot of care in pairing up individuals as mentors with those that can use the help. It’s not a requirement, but what happens is Airmen get help from a mentor and as they reach the next level, they turn around and want to give back to the next person in line.”

The program also tries to keep Airmen attached to their unit to take advantage of that support structure they already have in place. Townes said it’s often beneficial to their recovery.

“When people are injured or ill and can’t perform their primary function, they lose that sense of worth, and that’s more detrimental to their recovery than anything else,” he said. “They’ve got friends at their unit. They’ve got a mission. If we keep them connected and keep them occupied outside of doctors’ appointments, it gives them a feeling of normalcy. They’re still valuable members of the Air Force and we want them to have that feeling.”

Townes said everything in the Wounded Warrior Program really comes down to building relationships with Airmen and their families, including building relationships between Airmen.

“A lot of times they get their strongest advocacy from each other, and we try to encourage that as much as possible.”