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NEWS | Nov. 19, 2013

Base, community focus on wounded warriors

By 2nd Lt. Brooke Betit 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

"No one gets left behind."

This is the promise that Matthew Campbell, 633rd Medical Group recovery care coordinator, gives to wounded veterans going through the transition program at Langley Air Force Base.

Facilities at both Langley and Fort Eustis are dedicated to ensuring wounded warriors receive the care and services that they need. Staff members provide specialized care and case manager support.

"We help them reach their goals and achieve normalcy in their lives, whether they are being retained or released from the military," Campbell said. "We make sure resources are available to them and educate them on the benefits out there, including continued education and Veteran Affairs services."

Michelle Venzke, 633rd Force Support Squadron communication readiness specialist, agreed that giving special attention to wounded Service members is important.

"We work with them one-on-one to provide them with whatever they need," she said. "We work to accommodate their injuries. Some are confused or suffer from memory loss. Others need to be reminded about the resources they're entitled to."

Venzke believes in giving each case her all.

"They deserve my 100 percent attention," she said. "I make sure ... they can get whatever they need."

Langley receives about 20 injured Service members and Fort Eustis takes in roughly 250 members per year in different stages of recovery.

"There are many parts of my job that are very rewarding," said U.S. Army Capt. Erika Wall, Fort Eustis Warrior Transition Unit commander. "It's challenging to see Soldiers who can perform a lot of tasks or have to deal with a lot of issues, but then it's amazing to see the transformation that they go through while they're here, once they get the healing and resources they need."

The Fort Eustis facility also supports the Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit in Virginia Beach, which primarily helps National Guard and Reserve Soldiers.

U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Rupp, a member of the Delaware Army National Guard, has taken advantage of the CBWTU. Rupp served in the Army for 10 years and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his deployments, he suffered back injuries and developed a blood clot in his lower right lung, he said.

Rupp says that his injuries have impacted his quality of life.

"I've had to deal with a lot of physical and mental issues," he said. "I'll be driving down the road and think I'm on a convoy and speed up. My wife calms me down and helps me breathe. I also can't pick up my kids because of my lower back injury."

Rupp is taking advantage of the services offered through the CBWTU, which provides remote command and control, medical case management and administrative services to Army Warriors in Transition who have experienced injury or illness in the line of duty.

Although Rupp was initially hesitant about contacting the mental health clinic, he's glad he finally did take advantage of the resources and encourages other wounded warriors to do the same.

"Don't be ashamed," he said. "It's better for you in the long run. You have friends, family and medical support. Stay with the unit, because they'll help you transition. Stay strong and let people help you."

The staff at JBLE strives to accommodate wounded warriors at all stages of rehabilitation.

Service members are also joining in to support their injured team members. Fundraisers and events raising awareness are a few of the methods Soldiers and Airmen have used to ensure no wounded warrior is left behind.

Many Soldiers and Airmen have taken part in volunteer activities, including an annual Wounded Warriors Barbecue hosted by local businesses.

"We are just overwhelmed by the level of support from the Langley and Eustis community and the Airmen and Soldiers who are able to offer their time," said Bob Fitzgerald, a local business owner who hosted the event. "We are a small company so we couldn't do this event without them."

Local business employees collectively decided the Wounded Warrior Project was the organization they wanted to support in 2010, and have been hosting the barbeque ever since.

"Wounded warriors have put themselves in harm's way and they come back with injuries, visible or otherwise," Fitzgerald said. "They need help, encouragement and time to re-acclimate to realize that they're a valuable part of society."

To Fitzgerald, the money raised at the event is "a drop in the bucket" compared to the amount of support he believes that Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans need.

"As these conflicts draw down, the needs of wounded warriors do not fade," he said. "Just because the wars are no longer on national news every night does not mean the need isn't there."

A 2013 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs identified the need for more veteran support. According to the study, more veterans are committing suicide than previously thought, with 22 deaths a day--one every 65 minutes, on average.

"There are a lot of military members coming back with physical and mental wounds from the war; and we are losing more of them to suicide than to the wars," said Bud Deplatchett, east coast coordinator for Freedom Hunters, an organization dedicated to helping veterans by providing recreational opportunities. "Hopefully, [the barbeque] and other [events] like it do more to helping aid these individuals."

Josie Pearson, lead volunteer coordinator for the Wounded Warriors Barbecue, echoed Deplatchett's sentiment.
 
"We need to let them know we appreciate what they've done," said Pearson. "We know the [wounded warriors'] needs are great, and that have a true desire to ease the burdens of what these veterans are going through."