On Aug. 24, facing his fourteenth surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), Sgt. Thomas Shepard's biggest concern wasn't his health it was the well-being of his family.
The following day, Aug. 25, Shepard's mother Mary Ann, father Ron, wife Brandy and three-year-old daughter Jade were scheduled to move from a hotel in Silver Spring where the family stayed for the last month, to the Navy Lodge at Naval Support Activity Bethesda (NSAB).
"At first, [my concern] was making sure my family was going to get moved over," he said.
More than a month earlier, Brandy had rushed from their Fort Drum, N. Y., home and her in-laws soon followed from Weatherford, Okla., to help care for the couple's toddler and spend time at Sgt. Shepard's beside. A call from Army Capt. Steve Scuba, a nurse case manager with the Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB) assured Brandy the family would receive help for the move to Bethesda. Scuba would help the rest of the family move to Bethesda while Brandy remained at the hospital to provide her husband support after his surgery.
"We definitely would've had a hard time with this," MaryAnn Shepard said. "This is a blessing."
Scuba added that a social worker alerted him of the family's need, a part of the Army's multi-disciplinary, patient-centered approach to support wounded, ill and injured Soldiers in the recovery process.
Now, two weeks later after moving into their Navy Lodge accommodations, Ron Shepard said it's more convenient being on post to support his son, who continues to recover as an inpatient.
"We can walk to the hospital and back. It's a nice facility. I can walk anywhere in about 10 minutes," he said. "We're really happy with the services."
Integration plan includes families
"The families are of critical importance," said Terry L. Lewis, who began working as BRAC Integration Director for the WTB more than two years ago and was involved in the early planning stages of transitioning outpatients from WRAMC to Bethesda. "We look at the family and the warrior as a family unit or a system. We view them as a single unit," Lewis said. "The family is a part of their transition, their care and their recovery they are of paramount importance."
The transition plan was developed to always incorporate families, said Lt. Col. Larry Guenther, executive officer for the WTB at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), at Bethesda. Guenther said during the process, warriors and their families had an opportunity to ask questions at a series of town halls with WTB senior leadership, one-on-one meetings with company commanders and daily interaction with squad leaders.
"I was involved in my part of the move from the beginning to make sure we had the families concerns in focus and to assure that the move would be a positive one for all," said Linda Rasnake, Family Readiness Support Assistant for the WTB at WRNMMC and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital.
A move on steroids
Guenther called the massive, two-stage move of 164 WRAMC outpatients, 17 inpatients and their families to Bethesda a "PCS [Permanent Change of Station] move on steroids," involving staffers at both hospitals, WTB cadre, moving professionals and volunteers.
The first move packed up the 164 outpatients and their 69 families on Aug. 19, and moved them to WRNMMC over the next two days after each individual warrior and their family met with a transportation counselor to determine how much they had to move and paperwork to be completed. Professional movers were available to help them pack and unpack, coach buses transported families to check in to their new lodging and shuttles took them back to retrieve their personal vehicles at WRAMC. "That took a lot of pressure off the families," Guenther said.
Rasnake said the Yellow Ribbon Fund, Operation Homefront, USO and Red Cross worked together to provide baskets filled with fruit and snacks as well as a cart filled with laundry soap, kitchen and cleaning supplies welcomed families to their new accommodations. "It was wonderful," Rasnake said. "The warriors and families were so excited to see that they were not leaving what they have known to be home WRAMC, but that they are coming to a new home."
Throughout the process, WTB cadre assisted seven families, including the Shepards, who chose to move to Bethesda. Guenther reported a total of 121 warriors who lived off-base prior to the immense move from WRAMC and were not involved in the change of accommodations. Marines, Sailors and Soldiers combined forces for the seamless transition from WRAMC to Bethesda. Several Navy-based groups housed in WRNMMC's Building 62 also assisted in the move under the direction of the Warrior Family Coordination Cell.
"This was definitely a joint effort," Lewis added. He credits the integration of the WTB, Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Deputy Commander for Integration (WRAMC), National Naval Medical Center and the Joint Task Force CapMed. "These organizations who assisted in the transition process were fully aware this tremendously difficult move was not business as usual. All involved consistently remained sensitive to the needs of the wounded warriors and their family members."
First Lt. James Dudley, an infantry officer injured in Afghanistan moved Aug. 20 from the Mologne House at Walter Reed with his wife Catelyn and 12-week-old son Jameson to new accommodations in Building 62 at Bethesda, which houses outpatient wounded warriors and their non-medical attendants.
‘That's as best a military action as I've seen executed. [It was] almost flawless," Dudley said. "The move was easy as good as a move for a family."
Nearly a month later, Catelyn maintains the move to Bethesda has been a good one for her family. She said their new accommodations in Building 62 allow her husband to be more independent, and she has enjoyed the convenience of all the services and resources available in the same building they live in. She found the hospital easy to navigate and staffers welcoming to their entire family.
"It's been wonderful," she said. "We have room for the baby to play ... It's been really wonderful for our family."