After a decade of war, the expectation is our wounded will make a "seamless transition" from military service programs to receipt of needed VA services and benefits. But Army Specialist Steve Bohn's experience shows the transition from active duty to retired status can still be a complex process for many of our Wounded Warriors.
Steve was injured in Afghanistan in November 2008, when a suicide bomber drove a dump truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives into his outpost. He suffered severe spinal and internal injuries. Last year, at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, he described what happened next:
• Flown from Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, instead of being taken directly to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), where he would finally undergo two major surgeries on his spine and internal organs.
• Transferred to New England's VA Boston Healthcare System West Roxbury Campus, only to have the brass at Fort Campbell threaten to classify him AWOL because they never got the word.
• Assigned only a 30-percent disability rating for his spinal injuries and 10 percent for his neck injuries by the Medical Evaluation Board -- without even taking into account any of his internal injuries.
Inexplicably -- and much to the dismay of the committee members -- a below-the-knee amputee testifying alongside Steve shared the same "temporary" medical classification.
"Like they expect his leg to grow back," says Steve. "That's more than ridiculous. That's insulting."
Steve's struggles went on and on: compensation and pension examinations backlogged, VA adjudication postponed because of cancelled medical exams. And during all that time, Steve still hadn't been assigned a VA primary-care doctor.
When warriors like Steve can't get anyone at the VA to discuss treatment options with him, when the red tape of bureaucracy blankets him in frustration, when it takes months and months to adjudicate his claim, when he must go through surgery alone because WRAMC can't be flexible in reimbursing a family member's travel expenses, and when his spinal injury is classified as "temporary," it's clear there are still too many seams in "seamless transition."
Steve did get help from Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). "I'm now lucky to have Linda Perry, my outreach coordinator at WWP, serve as my advocate to help me with my claims," says Steve. "I call her my guardian angel, my second mother. She and her team have helped smooth the rocky journey as I transitioned from active duty to veteran status."
Now, Steve says, things get done. If he has a question or concern, he knows whom to call -- Linda.
"There was a time when I felt no one cared about me. WWP helped me realize I was wrong about that, and now my passion is to help other Wounded Warriors out there who also feel alone. Warriors are still injured. Life must still be lived."