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Navy Safe Harbor: Aiding the fleet's wounded warriors

Nov. 18, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Lt. Cmdr. John Pucillo enjoys an afternoon jog in Newport, R.I., after attending class at the Naval War College. Pucillo, an explosives ordinance disposal officer who is enrolled in Navy Safe Harbor, lost his leg during actions in Iraq and has worked his way back to full duty status.
Lt. Cmdr. John Pucillo enjoys an afternoon jog in Newport, R.I., after attending class at the Naval War College. Pucillo, an explosives ordinance disposal officer who is enrolled in Navy Safe Harbor, lost his leg during actions in Iraq and has worked his way back to full duty status. (MC1 Brien Aho / Navy)
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In honor of Warrior Care Month, the Navy’s Safe Habor program is spending November highlighting its wounded warrior community and the programs available to sailors who’ve been seriously injured or fallen ill while serving.

The program isn’t just for the combat wounded, strategist support officer Merissa Larson told Navy Times — it provides support for sailors and Coast Guardsmen recovering from training, shipboard and liberty accidents and serious illness, as well as for their families or caregivers.

“It’s so important for us to get the word out to the fleet so that they are aware of the resources available to them if they, unfortunately, become seriously ill or injured,” Larson said. “And so we believe during November it’s our chance to speak about safe harbor as a critical resource to the fleet and to the family as well.”

Naval District Washington will hold a joint-service seated volleyball tournament today and Thursday at the Pentagon, where wounded warriors and leaders from all of the services will go head-to-head — one of several special events taking place in honor of Warrior Care Month.

In addition, the program is encouraging leaders to reach out.

“We are really encouraging our Navy leadership to make visits to sit one-on-one, out in the regions, at the various med treatment facilities, so that they can have a better understanding of what a day is like with a wounded warrior and how their recovery is going,” Larson said.

Navy Safe Harbor integrated with Naval Installations Command late last year, extending the programs network and resources within the continental U.S. as well as in Hawaii, where Larson said the program stood up a center to support returning veterans from Japan, Guam and other points in the Pacific.

The program counts 1,230 enrollees — 1,172 sailors and 52 Coast Guardsmen. Eleve percent are officers compared with 89 percent enlisted, and 84 percent are active-duty. The group doesn’t keep a ready breakdown by rating or billet, but anecdotally, Larson said, most wounded warriors come from explosive ordnance disposal and hospital corpsman specialties.

Care of all kinds

Support begins with nonmedical care specialists, who visit wounded troops in the hospital to begin figuring out a care plan — everything from housing and child care, pay and benefits paperwork, and eventually, navigating through the medical evaluation board process as they leave the service.

Larson said wounded warriors spend an average of two years in the program. Once they are physically rehabilitated, the program helps them rejoin the fleet or with employment or educational placement after separation.

“We provide a lifetime of nonmedical care to our wounded warriors and their families,” she said. “Once they’re enrolled in our program, we are with them until they deem they do not need our services anymore.”

During fiscal 2013, nearly 200 wounded warriors sought job counseling from the program, including résumé workshops, interview coaching and job placement. The program helped place 42 sailors and Coasties directly into jobs, while 33 secured internships and 52 went on to continue their educations.

Navy Safe Harbor is also looking to step up its efforts, starting with asking for feedback.

In September, the program held its first ever symposium for service members, their families and caregivers, to find out what the program’s users would do to improve it.

Larson said information availability was a chief concern, so Safe Harbor is putting together an online network where wounded warriors and their families can find information and connect to other families across the Navy.

“We always want to keep a line down the road at the navy population and ensure that we have our staff members aligned with how the Navy is changing or growing,” Larson said.

The key, Larson said, it to make sure wounded warriors know that the support is there for them.

“We would just really like to be able to empower each and every sailor to find out what’s available, to do a self-referral, refer a fellow sailor or even leadership,” she said. “We really count on the service members’ referrals.”

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