12th April 2013 Washington DC, USA

Co-ordinating care for wounded vets

I accompanied the Right Honourable Mark Francois, Minister of Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans (Min DPWV) for four days in Washington last week during his visit to discuss all aspects of the Service Personnel, Veterans and Families Taskforce (SPV+F). We were looked after tremendously by our American counterparts, with the highest levels of access in the Department of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA) and even the White House. We were hosted equally well by the hugely impressive Fisher House Foundation, who are opening the only Fisher House outside of the US Forces at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, in two months, in conjunction with Help for Heroes (H4H) in the UK. Fisher House Foundation has been an invaluable partner, also supporting our bike ride with flights from their Hero Miles programme.

Our trip around Walter Reed National Military Hospital was extremely informative, with significant insights into the latest prosthetic advances which are being shared with the UK. Equally compelling was the way in which they put the families of patients at the centre of their recovery process.

Mark Francois MP 15
Mark Francois MP, Min DPWV, learns about advancements in prostheses at Walter Reed National Military Hospital.

Within the DoD, the US Marine Corps and US Army shared with us the way in which they approach the recovery and transition of their wounded, injured and ill. This allowed us to share thoughts and best practice, which is, after all, the purpose of the Taskforce. Our meeting with Dr Woodson, Deputy Under Secretary for Health, was followed by a thoughtful tour of the Pentagon finishing at the 9/11 Memorial, a poignant reminder of the atrocity which started our involvement shoulder to shoulder together in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs General (Retd) Shinseki and his team at the VA gave us a deep understanding of the challenges faced by America in terms of veteran’s benefits, mental health, homelessness and suicide rates. The VA is making sophisticated progress in all of the above, and the Minister took plenty of ideas back for our own Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA).

The US is slightly ahead of the UK in terms of coherent programmes to aid veterans and military spouse employment. The insights given by the US Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes programme, the Wounded Warrior Project’s Warriors to Work, and the First and Second Ladies Joining Forces Initiative provided excellent ideas for the Minister to weave into the Armed Forces Covenant and the supporting Community and Corporate Covenants.

Summing up his visit, the Minister said, “I have been visiting Washington in support of the SPV+F Taskforce to enhance Anglo-American co-ordination on caring for our wounded and veterans. This trip has taught me there is much we can learn from each other on how best to support those who have given so much in the service of our countries and I will be putting some of these lessons into practice when I return to the UK.”