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Palace HART: AF initiative helps Airmen, families reclaim lives

Robins Air Force Base, Ga. --

No Air Force family wants to think about the possibility of their Airman being injured or killed, while serving their country. However, the reality is Airmen have been injured and killed as the United States continues to fight the war on terror.

That is why the Air Force has a new initiative titled Palace Helping Airmen Recover Together to help those who are ill or injured claim their life back after leaving their uniform behind.

"Palace Helping Airmen Recover Together is the (Air Force's) answer to the Secretary of Defense's instructions to services to take care of injured and ill service members," said Bill Sherman, chief of the Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch.

According to the Palace HART Concept of Operations, the Air Force will provide the same level of loyalty and commitment in the care of those combat-related ill, injured or wounded in action as it does preparing them for deployment and combat.

Palace HART is overseen by the Air Force Personnel Center's Airman, Family and Community Operations Branch and partners with the Airmen and Family Readiness Centers, the Air Force Survivor Assistance Program, civilian personnel, the Department of Veteran's Affairs, the Disability Evaluation System and the Department of Labor in their effort to take care of Airmen.

"I love the program because I believe in past years that disabled Veterans in the community tended to just struggle and figure it out and some are better at this than others. As a result I believe some of the Veterans struggled," said Christine Parker, chief of the A&FRC.

Airmen will no longer be left to struggle alone; each member will be assigned a case manager who will be available for support and direction as members of the program seek a new beginning after their separation or retirement.

"Whatever support they need they can get it on a one-on-one basis through this program," Mr. Sherman said.

The first priority of the Air Force is to retain any Airman who wants to continue serving their country on active duty said Kaye Mullis, a community readiness consultant at Robins A&FRC.

If an Airman is unable to continue wearing the uniform for any reason then the Palace HART program can provide resources and assistance to help them transition back into the civilian world, she said.

"It's really about providing information and resources for the entire life cycle, not just medical treatment," Ms. Mullis said. "The program provides not only for the member, but for the entire family."

The program helps Airmen who are injured or fall ill while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney J. McKinley, championed the program while at Robins in late February explaining how developing and caring for Airmen was one of his top priorities, which he said could not be accomplished without caring for wounded Airmen and their families.

"We are at war, and with war we have wounded warriors. We are caring for our wounded Airmen, but need to remain ever vigilant to ensure our Air Force warriors receive the quality care they deserve. We already have a great program in place to care for our wounded Airmen -- it's called Palace HART," Chief McKinley said. "Palace HART cares for our Airmen with combat-related injuries - from their point of injury, into recovery and rehabilitation, and will even follow them into a post-separation period if need be. So whether their injuries are physical, or emotional, as with those of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), we are committed to taking care of their needs. We will continue down this path of caring for our wounded and their families."

"We are here to make sure they (ill or injured Airmen) haven't been forgotten," Mr. Sherman said. "We want no lost patrols."

In the beginning of the transition, Mr. Sherman said daily phone calls may be necessary to help members of the Palace HART program get connected with Veteran's Affairs, locate employment opportunities for themselves and their spouses, meet financial hurdles from their unexpected retirement or separation and deal with other issues related to the transition. The first phone call serves as an initial assessment of the needs of the service member and his or her family, Mr. Sherman said. Once needs are identified and the member is connected with the proper agencies and organizations, calls are sometimes less frequent as members find their place in their post Air Force lives. If there are problems the case manager will jump in and make phone calls and help the member make the best of their resources, Mr. Sherman said.

However, members don't have to wait for a phone call from their case manager they are provided a toll-free number to call anytime assistance is needed.