Officials allowing more wounded troops to remain on duty
by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
10/15/2004 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Defense Department officials have long been leaders in providing employment opportunities to people with disabilities; however, they have taken a major step forward by allowing disabled troops to remain in the military if they want to and can continue to perform, DOD's disability program manager said here Oct. 13.
As DOD observes National Disability Employment Month, this year's theme, "You're hired! Success knows no limitations!" takes on particular relevance for servicemembers wounded during the war on terrorism, Judy Gilliom said.
Servicemembers with disabling injuries used to be automatically turned over to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ms. Gilliom said. If they returned to the DOD, it was generally after being medically retired, then hired as civilian employees.
"Now there is much more interest at the very highest levels in keeping anyone who wants to remain in the service as an active-duty member," she said. "And there are some very striking examples of how that has been done."
"With advances in medicine, technology and rehabilitation techniques, we are making every attempt to return willing servicemembers back to duty," said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "We are increasing that capability with advances in amputee care, new prosthetic devices and the new Advanced Amputee Training Center established at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center in Washington)."
President Bush shared his vision in December during a visit with wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed.
"Americans would be surprised to learn that a grievous injury, such as the loss of a limb, no longer means forced discharge," the president told the Soldiers.
"In other words, the medical care is so good and the recovery process is so technologically advanced, that people are no longer forced out of the military," President Bush said. "When we're talking about forced discharge, we're talking about another age and another (military). This is a new age, and this is a new (military). Today, if wounded servicemembers want to remain in uniform and can do the job, the military tries to help them stay."
Lt. Col. Andrew Lourake is an example of that new age and new military. He injured his left leg during a 1998 motocross bike accident and ultimately had to have it amputated. Colonel Lourake, now fitted with a computerized artificial limb, was cleared last summer to return to flight status and will soon be back in the pilot's seat.
"(This will set a) great precedent for the Air Force," said Brig. Gen. David S. "Scott" Gray, 89th Airlift Wing commander at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. "It shows how well the Air Force takes care of their own and how far technology has come to enable this to happen."
Mr. Chu called the spirit of wounded servicemembers’ intent on remaining in the military "an enormous tribute to America's all-volunteer force."
Ms. Gilliom said an example like this -- once almost unheard of -- is occurring with increasing frequency as the military looks beyond traditional conceived notions about what disabled servicemembers can and cannot do.
"It's important to let people achieve whatever potential they have to perform," she said.
That, she said, is the whole idea behind this year’s theme.
"There's a lot of interest in being sure that we facilitate that process and help people do what they want to do to adjust to any injury they may have acquired in the course of the global war on terror," she said.
This is great news!