A native of Austria, Rafaela “Rafi” Grant saw Hawaii as the perfect place to live out her passion: training for and competing in triathlons year-round. Hawaii is also where Rafi met her husband, an active duty Soldier, and discovered her second passion: advocating for wounded, ill and injured Service members.
After Rafi’s husband was injured during his second deployment, she became his caregiver and advocate while doctors struggled to diagnose his symptoms. Two years after his injury, he finally received a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
During that time, Rafi committed herself to ensuring that wounded warrior families would not have to endure the same experiences. She started volunteering at the local Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) and later worked with family programs at the nearby Reserve center. When the Recovery Care Coordinator (RCC) in the area left his position, Rafi applied for the position. She started working as an RCC in May 2011.
As an RCC, Rafi works with Army Reserve Soldiers, most of whom have been on multiple deployments within the past three to eight years. Most of her efforts center on ensuring they are accessing the medical care they need, and receiving the non-medical support they require, such as financial counseling and employment assistance.
Rafi starts every day by checking her e-mail as soon as she’s awake. She listens to voicemails while she drives to work. Once she arrives at her office, there is usually at least one Soldier waiting for her there. She spends the rest of her day meeting with Service members and families and traveling between the Reserve Center, the Military Treatment Facility, the Wounded Warrior Battalion and the VA to help resolve their issues and concerns. She also spends a lot of time educating commanders and unit administrators about the role of an RCC and the common challenges faced by recovering Reservists.
In her time as an RCC, there are two success that stick out the most to Rafi.
The first was the case of a Soldier who came home and quickly found employment, but his job eventually triggered symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and TBI.
“For about a year and a half he tried to suck it up and get over it because everyone told him it would get better over time,” Rafi said. “But it didn’t get better. It got worse.”
The Soldier was referred to Rafi after he informed his Commander that he no longer felt safe around weapons. She arranged for him to get a full physical work-up since his deployment, and also got him counseling for his PTSD.
“The first time he called after being transferred to the WTU he told me that he truly believed that if I had not gotten him into the WTU he might not be here today,” Rafi said.
The second success Rafi is particularly proud of involves a female Soldier who deployed to Iraq was diagnosed with PTSD when she returned, but wasn’t assigned to the WTU or referred to the medical evaluation board process. By the time Rafi met her, the previous four years spent in limbo had taken their toll. By sharing her own personal experiences and struggles as the wife of a wounded warrior, Rafi was able to establish trust. Within six weeks of meeting the Soldier, Rafi had her processed into the WTU. Soon afterwards, Rafi received a letter from the Soldier’s husband that said, simply, “Thanks for being in the foxhole with us.”
“These are the little successes that are far apart but they make it worth it,” Rafi said.
If she and her husband had the option of an RCC at the time of his injury, their work and struggle would have been cut at least in half, Rafi said. She explained that while she had to learn through trial and error, Service members and families with RCCs have someone in the system who knows who to call and what to ask, and she feels fortunate to be that kind of resource for wounded warriors and their families.
She also recognizes that sometimes wounded warriors and families just want a sympathetic, listening ear, and she is happy to provide that as well.
“This is what I was missing when I was going through situations with my husband, was someone to listen to me at that particular moment,” she said. “It helps to know you’re not alone.”