Wounded soldiers have comrades in Legion

A young Army sergeant first class recuperates in his bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here with the leader of the nation’s largest veterans organization standing at his bedside, asking him how he’s feeling and if there is anything the Legionnaires “back home” or in the nation’s capital can do.

He told American Legion National Commander John Brieden during the recent visit that he yearned to return to active duty and to complete his Army career. The “leader” in him was unimpaired despite his wounds. He told the commander: “Thank you for visiting. But you do not need to spend time with me. I am a little older with different life experiences. I can handle what happened to me. You need to spend time with the 18 and 19 year olds that are devastated at their injuries.” He was already treated in Afghanistan and at Landstul, Germany, before arriving at Walter Reed.

He requested that the ward nurse “treat that other soldier” before treating his own wounds, then told Brieden he wanted a prosthesis and a prompt return to active duty rather than a medical discharge because, “I want to return to my troops, because they need me.” Brieden, an Army ranger who served during the Vietnam War, understood.

Some of the wounded simply appreciated a visit. Some can benefit from a service officer’s counsel on benefits-related decisions. Virtually all wish for a speedy return to active duty and are proud of both their service and their mission. And, thanks to a new Army program, the Disabled Soldier Support System (www.armyds3.org), all severely wounded soldiers will have the American Legion and other veterans service organizations at their disposal.

“Our nation—the Pentagon, civilian agencies, troops, their loved ones, and the community of warriors past and present—are in this global war on terror together,” Brieden said. “When the families are praying for the safe return of their deployed members, we Legionaries are praying with them. For those who come home with delibitating wounds, we appreciate the Army letting us offer our services and support directory; the sooner the better.”

Otherwise known as “DS3”, the Army’s new program is designed to expedite the offering of benefits and services from the Department of Veterans Affairs for severely wounded soldiers, such as amputees. The program also gives them an early option to seek assistance from a veterans service organization. Among its services to veterans and troops, The American Legion www.legion.org:

• Provides free, professional assistance—for any veteran and any veterans survivor—in filing and pursuing claims before any administrative or judicial body of the Department of Veterans Affairs;

• Helps the family of a deployed service member—ranging from errands to household chores to providing someone to talk to—through the Family Support Network , 800-504-4098; and

• Offers Temporary Financial Assistance to help needy families of deployed troops meet their children’s needs.

The organization’s service “For God and Country” encompasses the survivors. American Legion honor guards perform more than 100,000 solemn funeral honors annually for KIAs and veterans. Its American Legacy Scholarship Fund raises money to provide educational assistance to the children of U.S. service members killed while on active duty on or since Sept. 11, 2001. The 2.7 million-member American Legion is the nation’s largest veterans organization.

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