Editor’s Note: This post is one in a series spotlighting Recovery Care Coordinators. Recovery Care Coordinators are trained to support the Recovery Coordination Program, which is overseen by the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy.
Annette Slaydon was working as a paralegal, helping victims of medical malpractice and clients with other personal injury claims while her husband, Christopher, was on his third deployment to Iraq as an Air Force Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician—a member of the bomb squad. On October 24, 2007, Christopher lost all his vision and his left arm when a bomb he was investigating exploded two feet from his face.
“I suddenly had the feeling that what I was doing before was not going to suffice anymore,” Annette said. “It was actually more like a calling for me. Having been through the process, the ins and outs of being with someone who has been wounded in the Military, the benefits and all of that, I knew I wanted to do something to help our wounded, ill and injured.”
A year-and-a-half later, in July of 2009, Annette completed a standardized training course overseen by the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy and became part of the first group of Recovery Care Coordinators. She and her husband, who medically retired from the Air Force in August 2009, returned to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona, where Annette now manages the non-medical care of Active Duty, Guard and Reserve Service members throughout Arizona and New Mexico, including helping those Service members identify needs, set goals and access the resources required to heal.
The Recovery Coordination Program (RCP) was established as a solution to the gaps in care management identified at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other facilities in early 2007. Because Service members are often hospitalized far from home without traditional support networks, the Military Services offer a wide range of non-medical support services for their members and families. However, without someone to coordinate these support services, wounded warriors and their families were struggling to navigate a very complex bureaucracy. RCCs like Annette become experts on the support available and work with the medical staff to coordinate the programs and services each individual Service member requires for successful recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Having been through that process herself as the spouse of a wounded warrior, Annette feels she brings a unique personal perspective to her work.
“They’re able to say, ‘You truly understand what we’re going through,’” she said. “I don’t know how many people I’ve called who have said, ‘Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank God you’re here.’ We’re here to take the burden off of them so they can focus on getting better.”
Take the case of a Michigan National Guard member who was referred to Annette after he came to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale for treatment. Suffering from a degenerative condition that left him with physical and cognitive deficits, he had been living off credit cards for more than two years.
“The first day I met with him he hung his head and cried. He said, ‘Where were you before? But I am so glad you are here now,’” Annette recounted.
Now, since meeting with an RCC, this Service member’s debt is paid off and he has the funding and support he needs to continue his treatment and his recovery.
Thanks to successes such as these, Annette said she has seen the program improve and earn the confidence of installation commanders and others.
“There were some people who were hesitant at the beginning, but as soon as you help one of their Airmen, they really see the value of the program,” she said. “I think all of us wish we didn’t have any clients, but the simple fact is there are people who need us, and I think the sheer number of people we are servicing at one time speaks volumes about the value of the program.”