MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — When Capt. Antoine Bates arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from Afghanistan, via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, his parents, grandmother and brothers were already there waiting for him. The Wounded Warrior Regiment was also waiting for him, and for his family, who had traveled from Cleveland.
“When they showed up here, everything was taken care of,” Bates said. “Basically, they just had to show up and worry about me.” The regiment secured lodging for his family and arranged to have his parents and grandmother paid to care for him until his condition stabilized.
That was in late June of 2011, after Bates, who is now the operations officer for the Wounded Warrior Regiment detachment at Walter Reed, stepped on an improvised explosive device while clearing a residence in a hunt for a bomb maker. He ultimately lost one leg below the knee and an arm below the elbow, and nearly lost the other leg.
It took him about three months to stabilize and leave the hospital, at which point he was placed in a two-bedroom apartment with his father, who was designated as his paid caregiver.
Stabilization is the first step of a three-step recovery for most Marines who find themselves in the Wounded Warrior Regiment, and it is generally the shortest in duration, said April Peterson, who works in the regiment’s headquarters at Quantico as deputy program manager for the unit’s 49 recovery care coordinators.
For the regiment, she said, the stabilization period isn’t so much about the Marines, who are primarily in the care of top-notch Navy doctors.
“The issue has more to do with the people who are surrounding them,” Peterson said. “Mom shows up at a military treatment center and it’s a whole new world to her.” Not only do family members not understand the military medical system, rank structures or acronyms, but they need assistance with finding a place to stay, transportation, care for children and pets, and a slew of other questions.
To assist them, and to coordinate the Marine’s treatment, each Marine and his or her family are assigned a civilian recovery care coordinator and an active duty section leader, both from the Wounded Warrior Regiment. Peterson manages the recovery care coordinators stationed in 13 medical centers around the country.
“We’re supposed to be that lead person that a service member or family can come to and say, ‘What am I supposed to do?’” she said. The RCCs will stay with the Marines assigned to them, coordinating medical care and connecting them with other resources, until they’re in the hands of Veterans Affairs.
Section leaders, generally staff noncommissioned officers, are responsible for maintaining the military bearing of ill or injured Marines and ensuring that they follow their recovery plans. To use a school analogy, Peterson said section leaders are like homeroom teachers the Marines see every day, while the RCCs are equivalent to guidance counselors who build the plan that the section leader and Marine execute.
Each section leader is responsible for about 10 wounded warriors, with the sections grouped into companies, in an approximation of the usual military hierarchy.
In the early weeks of care, Marines are usually treated at facilities away from home, so much of the regiment’s job is to work with the family, figuring out where they’ll live, where their children can go to school, how they’ll get to the grocery store and other details.
They also often handle complicated family relationships, such as parents who have both remarried, or girlfriends and mothers who don’t get along, Peterson said. “We deal with a lot of conflict management, conflict resolution, crazy dynamics.”
The stabilization phase usually takes around a couple of months, but can vary widely. A patient who begins as a single amputee but then needs another amputation will be in intensive treatment longer, and a cancer patient may take months to stabilize. Meanwhile, a case of post-traumatic stress disorder may not require a stabilization period at all.
“It’s not a process, it’s a personal relationship we establish with the Marine,” Peterson said.
During this period, she said, the RCC and section leader try to head off issues like financial disaster or divorce while getting the Marines focused on their futures and the families adjusted to their new reality.
“It’s really important in the stabilization phase that we move [Marines and families] down that same path at the same time,” she said, noting that these family members will be caregivers and moral support to the Marines when they enter their rehabilitation phase and, later, when they begin to reintegrate into the Marine Corps or, more likely, the outside world.
Bates said members of the regiment connected his family with various governmental resources available to them, as well as coordinating logistics with his family and friends.
“I personally tried not to bother them too much, but if I couldn’t figure it out, I’d go to them,” he said, adding that his father had often consulted the regiment regarding paperwork or information about the base.
“I was taken care of very, very well,” Bates said. “I was very appreciative of the fact that we’ve done such a phenomenal job of taking care of our guys.”
— Writer: firstname.lastname@example.org