July 20, 2011
By Jacqueline Hames
WASHINGTON — The Army Wounded Warrior program’s 7th Annual Symposium is taking place this week in Orlando, Fla., with focused discussions that will identify the most important transition and care issues facing Soldiers and their families.
More than 90 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, veterans and family members will participate in intensive group discussions based on their personal experiences. They will ultimately identify the top five issues in Soldier care, which span topics affecting families, Warrior Transition Units, finance and veterans affairs, explained Col. Greg Gadson, director of AW2.
“Simply put, this event is about listening to those who have been through it and learning about ways we can continue to improve how we care for our most severely wounded, injured and ill Soldiers, veterans and their families, and then take action,” Gadson said.
During the conference, Sarah Gannaway, wife of injured Soldier Maj. Bruce Gannaway, spoke about her family’s experience with injury, rehabilitation and continued active-duty service with the Army, and the challenges the family faced. In December of 2007, Bruce stepped on an improvised explosive device. He lost his left leg below the knee, but returned to duty.
The major requires wheelchair accessible housing, but because he is no longer in a Warrior Transition Unit, he does not receive priority placement for housing, his wife explained.
“Through the Residential Communities Initiative, the Army has done admirable things to improve the quality of housing available to active-duty families,” Sarah said, “But it can be very difficult to get housing at a garrison because supply is limited and waiting lists are long.”
The Gannaways anticipate coming assignments to be about two years long each, but because of the 12-to-18-month waiting lists, securing housing is a regular challenge. Sarah believes the AW2 program is a valuable way for wounded Soldiers and families to identify problems, like housing challenges, and find solutions.
“Each of the issues brought up during this symposium deserves a fair listen and some thoughtful discussion about what could be done to fix the problem. Ultimately, the goal is for everyone’s lifestyle to get a little freer,” she said.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Taylor Njagu, who suffers from post-traumatic stress in addition to other injuries, also spoke during the conference about transitioning as an injured Soldier into a civilian job. He wants to encourage employers to find better avenues for screening resumes so Soldiers, whose civilian skills may not be readily apparent, won’t be filtered out of the application process too early in an automated system.
Njagu credits AW2 for helping him through his own transition and finding a civilian job. He now works for the Naval Facilities and Training Command.
“I decided to participate in the 2011 AW2 Symposium because I want to champion the causes of the wounded warriors and their families,” Njagu said. “I love them and their families and have been in their shoes. They deserve the best the nation has to offer because they gave the best they had to offer: themselves.”
The AW2 Symposium runs from July 18-22, 2011.
Previous symposiums have produced improvements in access to treatment for traumatic brain injury at all military installations, the creation of Soldier Family Assistance Centers, and new legislation that gives a monthly stipend to caregivers, an additional $10,000 in Department of Veterans Affairs housing benefits, and expanded Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance coverage, Gadson said.
“The Army is committed to providing the best possible care and support to every Soldier who becomes wounded, ill or injured,” Gadson added, “And we can always make it better. I know that every single delegate here this week has great perspective on how to improve the system for those who are wounded today and in years to come.”