Case manager finds 'right' care for New England wounded veterans
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Donna Bibeau, clinical case manager for the 66th Medical Squadron, calls one of her many resources to help an active duty member returning from deployment. Bibeau works with a variety of military and non-profit organizations to help military members receive the treatment or resources they need to help make the transition from a deployment to active duty, home or civilian life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rick Berry)
by Capt. Geoff Buteau
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
9/16/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The increase in military deployments in the last decade means an increased demand for returning troops to receive specialized physical and mental health care. The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have many programs in place to smoothly transition troops from a deployment to returning to active duty or starting a civilian life. One, in particular, is the Wounded Warriors program.
People involved with the Wounded Warriors program help troops returning from deployments navigate the various agencies, matching the right caregivers to the patients, or finding methods of treatment that aren't traditionally part of the military health system.
Donna Bibeau, the 66th Medical Squadron's clinical case manager, works in conjunction with the Wounded Warriors program and not only helps patients cope with and find treatment for the challenging aftermath of acquiring a mental illness, but also uses any tool at her disposal -- whether it is negotiating the price down on a ramp for a disabled veteran or calling on former civilian colleagues about specialized treatment providers -- to help veterans get back to living an enjoyable everyday life.
"With wounded warriors, you kind of feel out what's going on with them, then you go and get them moving as quick as possible to the best provided care," she said.
As a contractor, Ms. Bibeau works closely with organizations that specialize in reaccelerating troops to home life back in the U.S., like the Hanscom Clinic and Community Based Warrior Transition Units (CBWTU). The CBWTUs perform a critical service to help find ways for returning military personnel to serve on active duty while they recover from the effects of a wide variety deployment injuries and stresses.
Sometimes, though, Ms. Bibeau identifies these patients as having specialized needs that may not be completely met by the rehabilitation facilities currently in place, and sometimes those organizations have so many patients with needs, she needs to find care for them on her own.
"My job as a case manager is to do what's right for that patient. I'm going to assess it. I'm going to evaluate it. I'm going to plan it," she said. "It's all of that; it's whatever it takes."
One program she has had success with is NEADS, or National Education for Assistance Dog Services. NEADS is a non-profit organization in Massachusetts that trains dogs to help disabled Americans navigate through everyday life.
NEADS recently developed a Canines for Veterans program because of the need generated from the large amount of injured men and women returning from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, said Anita Migday, president of NEADS' board of directors, on the organization's website.
"These men and women are not turning to crutches and wheelchairs, but instead are using assistance dogs to help them," she said.
One particular patient of Ms. Bibeau has a two-year-old German Shepherd, which she said is the light of his life. Another patient with severe post-traumatic stress disorder has a service dog from NEADS that helps him with aspects of life that seem impossible for a dog to improve.
"It's unbelievable," said Ms. Bibeau, "This dog gently wakes him up when he's having bad dreams and reminds him when he forgets things as a result of his short-term memory loss."
To apply, veterans only need a copy of their Defense Department form 214, be available for two weeks to complete a training program with their dog and contact the organization using their website, www.neads.org/contact_us/index.shtml.
Ms. Bibeau also speaks highly of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. This outreach program connects veterans from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom with other veterans of those wars and their communities and families who have been impacted by deployment-related stress or traumatic brain injury to help them find and receive the right services, she said.
The program, which also offers a clinic for veterans seeking diagnosis and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, has a relationship with the Veterans Administration and holds monthly programs like competitions and focus groups, Ms. Bibeau said.
For more information, visit www.homebaseprogram.org, or call 617-724-5202.
"[The care] is different for each person. It's like grabbing smoke; that's what makes my job so awesome," she said.
Ms. Bibeau has called on government organizations like the Army's CBWTUs to help her patients get what they need to a plethora of non-profits. Some of them are Homes for Our Troops, which builds homes for disabled veterans, and Air Compassion for Veterans, where Mercy Medical Airlift provides free medical-, counseling- and rehabilitation-related airline flights for wounded veterans and their families.
She said the list of organizations she calls upon continues to grow.
"I always ask," she said. "I look at all different angles of everything and I've never had anybody say no."