By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anastasia Puscian, NMCSD Public Affairs
SAN DIEGO – Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) is the only Military Treatment Facility to have an Army Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) detachment in addition to Navy Medical Home and to the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion-West (WWBn) to care for Wounded, Ill and Injured (WII) service members.
The Army, Navy and Marine Corps staff along with NMCSD medical staff provide the personal and critical support, multidisciplinary services and comprehensive care needed for WII service members and their families throughout the phases of recovery. The goal is a collaborative effort in working towards returning these service members back to duty and continued service or assisting them in a successful transition to civilian life.
“We do our best to lower the stress levels,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacque Keeslar, NMCSD WTU platoon sergeant. “We try to lessen the burden on these guys and get them through [recovery] smoothly, refocused and reenergized about what they can and can’t do in their lives and let them know it’s not over now, it’s just begun. It’s a whole new world.”
NMCSD has implemented numerous programs to support the recovery of wounded, ill and injured service members. These include the Comprehensive Combat and Complex Casualty Care (C5) program, the Balboa Warrior Athlete Program (BWAP), Project C.A.R.E. (Comprehensive Aesthetic Recovery Effort) and the Navy Safe Harbor program.
The C5 program coordinates the overall inpatient and outpatient clinical management of injured service members that includes orthopedic, reconstructive plastic surgery, amputee care, physical therapy (PT) occupational therapy (OT) and recreational therapy, mental health assessments and care, Traumatic Brain Injury treatment, pastoral care, counseling, family support and career transition services.
“The care side of the house is never in question,” said Keeslar. “The medical care you receive, the therapies you receive, the OT and PT as far as an amputee, is above and beyond. They do anything and everything they can for you as a wounded Soldier.”
Keeslar a 20-year veteran and a double amputee lost both of his legs during a deployment to Iraq in 2006. In March 2007 he returned to full duty after recovering at Walter Reed, he worked at the Warrior Transition Command in Washington D.C. before being assigned to NMCSD’s WTU as a platoon sergeant in August 2009.
BWAP is a therapeutic program designed to restore, remediate and rehabilitate WII service member’s level of function and independence through structured fitness, sports and recreation activities. BWAP promotes health and wellness in order to improve daily life activities and abilities often limited by injuries, illness or disabling conditions.
BWAP participants can enjoy a variety of activities such as surfing, strength and condition training, wheelchair basketball or tennis, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, golf and others. The program also offers off site adaptive sports to include rowing, hiking, 5K and 10K runs, bicycling and skiing.
“The BWAP program is great,” said Army Spc. Michael Ortiz, WTU patient. “I have every day of the week covered, I do swimming, surfing, tennis, archery, hand cycling, hiking, salsa dancing, and fly fishing. The whole week is taken up.”
Ortiz received injuries in Iraq in late 2008 and has been receiving care for the past nine months at NMCSD.
Project C.A.R.E. helps traumatically wounded service members who have experienced severe disfigurement recover by providing emotional support along with surgical and non-surgical care in an effort to improve appearance and restore function. As a result of combat trauma and training accidents, a great number of service members suffer major life altering injuries and have often undergone numerous surgeries. Through dermatologic and plastic surgery services, service members can often recover from the emotional distress, pain and limited motions associated with extensive scarring and also enhance their self-image as a result of these aesthetic treatments. Many of these treatments are in an outpatient setting and involve the use of the latest non-invasive laser technology.
The Navy Safe Harbor program provides high quality non-medical care to all Sailors and Coast Guardsman and their families. The program provides services such as: pay and personnel assistance, invitational travel orders, lodging and housing adaptation, child and youth programs, transportation needs, legal and guardianship guidance, education and training benefits, commissary and exchange access, respite care and traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder support services.
“There are a lot more resources here [NMCSD],” said Ortiz. “The pain management doctors and staff are really helpful.”Army Warrior Transition Units (WTU) and Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalions (WWBn) were officially established in 2007 due to the high injury rate of service members returning from overseas duty to further assist in the tracking and caring for patients. Before 2007 service members’ treatment and care was managed by medical liaisons located at NMCSD. C5 was opened in October 2007 to care for severely wounded service members on the west coast.
The relationship between the patients and I is excellent. They [Army patients] are working hard to get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Col. Judith L Tracy, one of three Army case managers assigned to NMCSD’s WTU. “NMCSD has gone overboard to make the Army feel welcome. They work with the wounded warriors very well. When I have had to change or make appointments everyone has been very gracious. The facilities here and the opportunities for these Soldiers at NMCSD are absolutely excellent.”
There are two Army WTUs in California: WTU Alpha Company is in Fort Irwin, Calif. and WTU Bravo Company is attached to NMCSD.
The Marine Corps has a Wounded Warrior Battalion on each coast. Wounded Warrior Battalion West (WWBn-W) located at Camp Pendleton and Wounded Warrior Battalion East located at Camp Lejeune N.C. The battalions are then broken into smaller detachments to cover duty stations along each coast. WWBn-W is responsible for Marine Corps duty stations west of the Mississippi River such as Twentynine Palms, NMCSD, Palo Alto and Hawaii.
“Everyone definitely cares about the patients here, especially the C5 patients - they do extra,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Cottle, a Marine assigned as a patient to the WWBn-W at NMCSD. “There are definitely a lot of people they deal with at one time and sometimes it’s chaotic, but they do a pretty good job of facilitating the chaos and still get everyone their therapy.”
Cottle lost both his legs in Afghanistan in July of 2009 and has been receiving care at NMCSD since August 2009.
“The staff is pretty supportive and helpful if my wife calls and needs or asks for something the staff is on top of it,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joe Gallo, a WWBn-W patient at NMCSD. “They are really involved with the patients. They always know what’s going on with them and try to do things to help them.”
Currently there are 27 Army WTU patients, 68 Marine WWBn-W patients and 104 Navy medical hold patients receiving care at NMCSD.