When my soldier husband was severely injured eight years ago, I had no idea what to do. No one wants to think of injury. It's almost as if our minds are pre-programmed to believe that they'll return home in one piece or the worst will happen: They won't return at all.
But what about the middle? If you just found out your spouse was injured during an overseas deployment, what do you do? There are several steps you need to take.
Make contactAfter you get that first phone call from Red Cross giving you vague and scary information, get right on the phone and call your spouse’s unit. Find out if your service member is getting held for treatment for more than a few days in Landstuhl, Germany. Depending on the health and extent of injuries, it often is faster for the military to fly your spouse back to the states to Bethesda, Maryland , or to the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC) in Texas than flying the spouse and family to Germany.
Make arrangements for familyMy husband didn’t have the best expectancy for survival so they rushed him to Texas. Hero Miles via The Fisher House, will pay to fly your family members to you at the hospital to help provide support for you while you are dealing with a newly wounded veteran. This was something I did not know eight years ago. You can ask the unit or command to work that out with the case manager at the hospital.
Make plans for kids and petsWe were lucky my husband's major was on his medevac and insisted he got sent to SAMMC as we lived in Texas. If you have to leave your home of record and live temporarily at a Fisher House, make immediate plans to kennel your pets as you aren’t allowed to bring animals there, unless they are Service Dogs. They will accommodate your children, however if they are school age and injury happens during the school year, you are going to have to do some serious thinking about their placement.
Figure out your financesWhen my husband first got released from SAMMC, he lived in the Fisher House and was in the Warrior Transition Unit of the Army. He couldn’t walk, dress himself, cook for himself or bathe himself. There is something called Non-Medical Attendants Pay. The Army paid me since I was living out of the Fisher House, away from our home of record to assist with his daily care. Not all NMAs get paid, so contact your finance office on your closest base. If you have to live away from home and leave your job, every penny saved is helpful.
File your documentsBasically, the military is going to evaluate your spouse to see if they can return to their previous MOS (job) after they recover. If the injuries are to the extent that there is no way the veteran can return to work at all, then the proceedings will start for medical retirement. Be sure to keep hard copies and scan all of the paperwork you get from the initial accident report during the injury, the Landstuhl records, and inpatient records from any hospital your spouse is sent to. These will be critical going forward when the medical retirement is in process. The VA will only cover you in the future for conditions suffered initially in combat. If secondary conditions arise due to the initial injuries, those will be covered.
Be an advocateIf your veteran is injured in a blast severe enough to blow pieces off of his vehicle, insist on screening for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and do not take no for an answer. It does take time for the impact of brain injury to show up, especially if the veteran has other severe physical injuries and is heavily medicated for pain.
Journal what you see in your spouse -- especially if you see alarming behaviors that weren’t present prior to injury. Make sure their medical team is all in agreement with treatment plans. If you have a hem oncologist, internal medicine and orthopedic doctor, they all have to agree on medications and ideas for release of care. We had to reinforce that every doctor would be sure to prescribe medicines that wouldn’t conflict with the blood disorder he got from his femur injuries. You would think this is all tracked, but it isn’t and it will be up to you to advocate for your veteran.
Additional resources:SGLI (Service Members Group Life Insurance) is a benefit your service member should enroll in prior to deployment. It helps provide TSGLI if they get injured and meet certain criteria. It also provides a death benefit. You can read more about this here as there are payout amounts depending on the type of injuries sustained.
Each branch of the military takes care of their wounded service members differently.
Army: The Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), and also the AW2 Unit, which helps severely wounded soldiers who suffer from injuries or illness incurred after September 10, 2001 in support of Overseas Contingency Operations. They will help you from initial recovery to transitioning to veteran status.
Marines: The Wounded Warrior Regiment (WWR) which provides non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill and injured Marines and helps them transition into veteran status as well. There are two Wounded Warrior Battalions; one is at Camp Pendleton and the other is at Camp Lejeune.
Navy: Navy Safe Harbor (NSH) coordinates the non-medical care of wounded, ill or injured sailors and their families.