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Now part of Human Resources Command, DS3 program helps injured Soldiers

By Eric Cramer

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 29, 2005) -- In an official ceremony April 29, Human Resources Command took over the operations of the Disabled Soldier Support System – DS3 for short.

Operated by the Army’s G-1 (Personnel) office since April 30, 2004, the DS3 program helps severely injured Soldiers and their families get the help they need to get medical treatment, stay on active duty, or transition to civilian life.

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Richard Cody, said the DS3 program is among the Army’s most essential tasks.

“There is no higher calling than the one that calls us to address the needs of our injured and severely injured Soldiers,” Cody said. The 340 Soldiers we’re supporting right now have done more than their share. They have lived the warrior ethos as an oath and as a promise.”

In an interview following the ceremony, Cody said that numerous entities helped initiate the DS3 program.

“We had a lot of help from the Veteran’s Administration, the Office of the Secretary of Defense staff and Vietnam veterans, as well as veterans from other wars,” Cody said. “They told us what they wished they’d had.”

Cody said he checks on the program’s progress by talking to Soldiers and their family members. “I’ve had several cards and letters saying they wouldn’t have known what they’d have done without the assistance of the caseworkers and the DS3 program,” he said.

For Soldiers who have been wounded, the first contact with DS3 usually comes via a telephone call from a DS3 operator. The Army identifies Soldiers who have received severe wounds, and notifies the DS3 program that they are qualified for assistance.

“When we find out they are qualified for the program, we do an interview with them,” said Ayandria Barry, an operator with the program’s call center. “We find out their issues and enter them into our database so we can track them.”

She said she keeps a “smart book” of programs and contacts to help Soldiers determine their needs.

“They’re usually concerned with pay issues – their pay coming out of theater,” she said. “I help a lot of families, people like Soldier’s parents who don’t know the system and don’t know how they can be reimbursed for their travel to visit their Soldier.”

Diane McManus, leader of Soldier Family Management Specialists Section assigns caseworkers to individual Soldiers and their families.

“We do anything we can to help them. A lot of the Soldiers who are in Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) find themselves overwhelmed, and it’s our job to help them,” McManus said.

Bill Years, a caseworker for DS3, was separated from the Army as the result of a severe injury. Now he leads a three-member team of caseworkers at Walter Reed, helping Soldiers with their needs.

“We try to sort out the confusion. Frequently the family needs our help. With National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, the family members may never before have been on a military installation,” Years said. “We try to help them understand what their Soldier is going through.”

Years said he also helps Soldiers “do the paperwork.”

“There’s a lot of paperwork involved. If the Soldier is worried about VA benefits, we help with that. If they want vocational rehabilitation, we get them started. If they decide to stay in the Army, we help them with the paperwork for that,” Years said.

He said Soldiers have some common requests.

“They want to know where their personal items from in theater are, and where their buddies are,” he said.

First Lt. Alex Houston went through the DS3 program after losing his hand to a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Najaf, Iraq, in August, 2004.

“The moment I said I was staying in the Army, they said, ‘we’ll find you a job,’” Houston said. “They gave me a brief on the Program Executive Office, Soldiers, and helped me get a position there. DS3 helped get the orders and get the ball rolling. When I said I needed to move my family, they said ‘Go get them and move them up here.’”

Col. Jacqueline Cumbo is the chief of DS3. She said her staff is still building the table of distribution and allowances to determine exactly how the final version of DS3 will be composed.

“Our goal is to have a one to 30 ratio of family management specialists to Soldiers,” she said. “Right now there are 340 Soldiers in the system, but that number changes on a daily basis.”

Cumbo said the big advantage that came from moving DS3 from G-1 to HRC lay in bringing the program together into one location. “We were in two locations, which made it more difficult for us, and for the Soldiers we’re trying to help.”

McManus said the DS3 program doesn’t just solve injured Soldiers immediate problems, but also has long-term goals.

“We plan to track anyone who has been in the system for five years,” she said.

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