Warrior Transition Units Go Beyond Physical Recovery for Wounded Soldiers

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — For Capt. Edward “Flip” Klein, Oct. 22, 2012, was a life-changing moment. Deployed in Afghanistan, he was struck by a roadside bomb that resulted in the loss of both of his legs above the knee, an arm above the elbow and three fingers on his left hand.

He has spent the past year recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

“Very little about this last year has been easy, but I can assure you that it would have been much harder, if not impossible, without the love and support of my wife, Jessica, our patients and friends,” he said last month at an Army media roundtable, where he spoke to reporters.

Last month, as part of DoD’s annual recognition of Warrior Care Month, the Army held events to honor wounded, ill and injured troops and to highlight programs such as their Warrior Transition Units.

WTUs were created by the Army to provide support to injured, wounded and ill troops like Klein and their families who require complex care and support. The Army developed them after problems surfaced at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007, including the difficulty that troops and their families were having navigating the complex healthcare system.

The WTUs’ mission, according to the Army, “is to provide comprehensive outpatient management that allows soldiers to successfully heal and transition.”

Army Capt. Edward Klein, a triple amputee who was wounded in Afghanistan, tries out driving a vehicle adapted to support his injuries. An infantryman, Klein was company commander for Bravo Company, 4-23IN, 2 SCBT, 2ID out of Joint Base Lewis McCord, when he was wounded. Photo by Maj. Tammy Phipps

As of October 2013, more than 7,600 troops were assigned to 29 Army WTUs and its nine community-based warrior transition units across the country. About 41% of these troops are being treated for combat-related injuries, while 38% have injuries/illnesses not related to overseas contingency operations, according to Army statistics.

More than Recovery

While in the WTU, servicemembers have a triad of care providers, including the primary care manager, nurse case manager and squad leader, as well as other individuals. Patients also are assigned a Comprehensive Transition Plan that includes a personalized plan with goals they set themselves.

Klein said the WTU has provided him support as he recovers, including helping him come to terms with his injuries.

“There is nothing comfortable about realizing what you can and can’t do for the future, and they have been a very solid support structure to help me deal with some of those disappointments based on reality,” he said.

Klein’s wife said WTU has trained her in caregiving for her husband and has provided a “one-stop shop” for them to take care of everyday tasks.

“Most of us have had to drop everything, pack up a house, quit our jobs or pack up our kids and leave our life behind to fly across the country to be at our husband’s side. While there is nowhere else we’d rather be, life outside of the hospital doesn’t stop. Mortgages have to be paid, kids have to be in school and furniture has to be put in storage,” she said.

Moving Forward

Klein, who hails from Arkansas, said he was inspired to become a soldier by his older half-brother, who went to West Point. Klein said he temporarily strayed from that path and went to Texas Christian University, where he played football for a season. When that did not work out academically and athletically, he said he sat down to reevaluate his path with his older brother.

“We started developing a plan, and we thought the Army would be a good way to collect myself and gain a little maturity,” he recounted.

He enlisted in the Army in April 2000 and rose to the rank of corporal in the 82nd Airborne Division before leaving the enlisted ranks to attend West Point, where he graduated in May 2006.

In 2007, he left for a 15-month deployment south of Baghdad. He said he became commander for Bravo Company in Afghanistan in September of 2012 and was injured less than a month later.

His advice to other recovering troops is that the impact of positive thinking is real.

“If you allow yourself to backtrack and fixate on your setbacks and stagnate, you absolutely will,” he said.

Klein said he expects to be at WRNMMC for another 18 to 24 months. While he has further to go in his recovery, he has several athletic goals, including initiating triathlon training in the spring. Additionally, he said he is starting to get involved in hand cycling and would like to begin training for and participating in endurance and super-endurance races in the near future.

Sgt. 1st Class Scott Cormack, who serves as a platoon sergeant at the WRNMMC WTU, overseeing 30 recovering military personnel, said he has seen injured troops embrace resiliency and move forward in achieving their goals.

“One of my soldiers is a good example, he’s a bilateral amputee and recently won the Boston Marathon hand-bike race. He came in first,” Cormack told reporters.

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