JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Established in 2007, the U.S. Army Medical Command Ombudsman Program has been helping service members and their families navigate through the medical needs after being wounded, ill or injured.
Initially created by the U.S. Navy as a role filled by military spouses, MEDCOM ombudsmen have transitioned into a vital resource on installations by looking out for the morale and welfare of military families.
Ombudsmen serve as neutral mediators, or resource consultants, that act as liaisons between the military or family member, MEDCOM and the Medical Treatment Facility commander, to communicate the needs and concerns of the patient.
As medical professionals, ombudsmen can handle problems concerning duty-limiting profiles, the medical board process, harassment claims and even veterans’ benefits.
“We make sure the family or military member understands why their issues have been designated as they are,” said retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Richalen Hines, U.S. Army MEDCOM ombudsman. “We are another agency to ensure military and family members’ issues do not fall through the cracks.”
To ensure all military members and families have the resources to handle ongoing issues outside of the hospital, ombudsmen can also consult outside their chains of command, and ultimately consult the surgeon general, if warranted.
According to Hines, ombudsmen are not the decision makers when it comes to problems, but rather can help get people on the right path to resolving their problems.
“We are here to bridge the gap of communication between the service members and their commands and work with them to resolve their issues or concerns,” said Retired Sgt. Frank Howard, U.S. Army MEDCOM ombudsman. “Listening to them is the most important thing because you have to hear the service member’s problem before you can even think about helping them solve it.”
Many of the current ombudsmen throughout the field once served as senior NCOs in the Armed Forces, which enables them to create an important bond with the active duty members through their shared experiences.
“When I retired, I knew I wanted to continue to work with Soldiers and family members,” said. Hines. “I think Soldiers come to us because they feel comfortable knowing we are going to listen to them and assist them anyway we can.”
Howard feels that not enough people who have unresolved medical issues know there is a resource for them, and hopes they will reach out to receive the help they need.
Whether it is a current service member, veteran, family member or civilian, MEDCOM ombudsman are available to help lead individuals to the answers they are searching for. To contact your local MEDCOM ombudsmen, call 210-221-8919.