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Fort Lewis officials reaffirm commitment to warriors

Feb 27

By Lorin T. Smith

TACOMA, Wash. -- Fort Lewis and Madigan Army Medical Center leaders signed a covenant at the hospital reaffirming their commitment to providing the best health care possible to wounded warriors and their families, Feb. 18.

The Warrior Healthcare Covenant signing ceremony was also an opportunity for Army officials, local congressional leaders and community organizations to recognize and honor the men and women who have been wounded, ill or injured while serving our nation.

"The significance of this is event cannot be overstated," said Maj. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, commanding general, Madigan Army Medical Center and Western Regional Medical Command.

"It reaffirms the Army's commitment to provide unhindered access to the full spectrum of comprehensive medical care and support services that the Army Medical Department has to offer to wounded warriors and their families," Horoho said.

The post's Warrior Transition Battalion has about 450 wounded, ill or injured Soldiers who are currently undergoing medical recovery. The battalion has more than 250 medical and administrative personnel on site to assist Soldiers in their return to duty or transition to civilian life.

"The battalion really cares about warriors and consistently goes above and beyond the standards to ensure that these exceptional young men and women and their families are taken care of," said Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, who is currently the I Corps and Fort Lewis deputy commanding general and is himself a former wounded warrior.

Mathis will take over as the acting commander of Fort Lewis when the I Corps headquarters and staff deploy to Iraq later this year. He pledged that as the commander, Fort Lewis Soldiers can expect the same level of quality housing, medical care and morale, welfare and family support services.

"I am gratified to know that we are keeping our promise in providing the very best medical care, leadership and support," he said.

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks also attended the event and participated in the covenant signing. Dicks said that Congress has provided increased funding for wounded Soldiers and passed the largest Veterans Affairs spending increase ever. "This ceremony expresses the terribly important message to Soldiers that have been wounded in their military service that we are not leaving them behind," he said.

As thousands of Fort Lewis Soldiers prepare for an upcoming deployment, Horoho talked about how advances in medicine have been instrumental in saving lives on the battlefield.

"During World War I, approximately 70 percent of troops injured in battle survived their wounds. Today, that number exceeds 95 percent," she said. "I believe that is because of the advancements in military medicine, exceptional delivery of trauma and emergency care on and off of the battlefield, and the innovative approaches to diagnosing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and loss of limbs."

The WTB is currently located on main post, a few miles from the medical center. However, next year, Horoho said that ground will be broken for a new WTB complex that will be built adjacent to Madigan. Posters of an artist's conception of the new complex were displayed during the ceremony.

Before the signing ceremony, Kevin Holloway, a psychologist assigned to the Fort Lewis National Center for Telehealth and Technology, provided demonstrations of the virtual-reality exposure therapy system. This treatment is currently being used to treat some Soldiers who have been diagnosed with PTSD. Holloway had a Soldier put on a virtual-reality headset, pick up a mock M-4 rifle, which served as the joy stick, and on a huge screen, showcased an electronic urban landscape very similar to those in Iraq or Afghanistan. Holloway mentioned that even though virtual-reality therapy is in the early stages, it appears to be as effective as traditional treatments.

One of the Soldiers who has greatly benefited from the transition battalion is Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Turnbull, 31, a mortar man with the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment. He knows first-hand how good Army medical care is after suffering injuries in Iraq after a hand grenade was thrown and detonated inside his vehicle in Baghdad. For more than a year, he has been a member of the unit. The medical care he's received there has been the best in his 13-year career, he said. Anything he needed to recover - surgeries, physical therapy, medications or counseling - he obtained quickly.

The WTB was designed to service the entire Soldier as well, so Turnbull has had the educational opportunity to take college classes to help him become a history teacher after he leaves the Army.

Like most Soldiers, Turnbull said it was his spouse and Army spouses as a whole that help service members heal faster. "I would like to thank all of the families of our Soldiers here, who provide the care and comfort that enable us all to fully heal," he added.

Lorin T. Smith works in the Madigan Army Medical Center Public Affairs Office. This article appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

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