By Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, Founder and President, Invisible Disabilities Association

“You could get better if you wanted to.” “You should just try harder.” “You’re being lazy.” “You need to be more motivated.” “You’re so needy.”

Have you ever heard any of these comments from friends and family members? Have you ever said one of these to someone living with illness or pain? Often when we come across someone who says he has been sick or in pain for a long time, we think he is either exaggerating or not doing something about it. After all, when most people get sick, they get some rest, take some medication and are soon back on their feet. So why can’t our loved ones do that, too?

What we usually do not realize is how much people do attempt to regain their health. They have seen many doctors, had tons of tests, tried lots of medications and have undergone an unknown number of procedures. Yet, as we all well know, doctors do not always have all the answers. In fact, as our modern medicine improves, chronic illness actually rises. Excellent medical care saves lives and thereby, increases the rate of chronic illness.

Many times, we view those living with pain and illness as if their situation is due to a lack of motivation or attitude. They ask for help and we think they need to help themselves. We tell them if they “would just try harder,” have a “better attitude” and use “mind over matter,” they would not be suffering. Suffering can come upon us suddenly or gradually over time. Sometimes the cause is never known or found. Yet, the way people are judged and mistrusted can sometimes have just as devastating an impact on the sufferer as the actual pain or illness.

In the blink of an eye, a Service members’ military career can drastically change due to a sudden illness, wound, or injury.  When this happens many are left uncertain of the resources available to support them during their recovery.  That’s where Anthony Lazzaro comes in.

While on active duty working as a Marine Corps Liaison at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNNMC), Anthony discovered his passion for assisting recovering Service members map their road to recovery.

“This was the only job that I could actually say I loved doing,” said Anthony.  “It was amazing seeing their tenacious spirit as they strived through recovery.”

It was this experience that led Anthony to his current role as a Recovery Care Coordinator (RCC) for theUnited States Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment (WWR).  For the past two months, Anthony has worked as a RCC at Camp Lejeune, NC, where he supports eligible Service members by ensuring their non-medical needs are met along the road to recovery.

Recently, Anthony, along with other RCCs, Advocates and other Non-Medical Case Managers, met at a quarterly RCC training held by the Office of Warrior Care Policy.  The week-long training event was designed to prepare attendees to assist wounded, ill and injured Service members and their families through the phases of recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration.  The training included presentations from federal agencies and panel discussions featuring seasoned colleagues who shared their experiences, best practices and lessons learned.

Anthony found the training and the guidance of his colleagues beneficial.

“That’s what makes this job as an RCC so special.  We are a team.  We are here for one another.  Each RCC brings a unique attribute to the team,” he said.

As an RCC and former Marine Corps Liaison, Anthony’s work has made a lasting impact on recovering Service members.  During one of his more memorable experiences, he assisted a recovering Service member through the beginning phase of his recovery, including 10 surgeries, a year of rehabilitation, and his retirement from military service.  Speaking with him daily, Anthony became close to him and his family.  To this day, Anthony continues to be involved in this Service member’s life, and was even a groomsman in his wedding.

“It was moving to see how far the human body, mind and spirit can go,” said Anthony.  “This Marine went from full mobility to losing an eye, having a TBI, major limb salvage, PTSD and much more in just seconds.  It’s rewarding to see the determination of these warriors.”

For those considering becoming an RCC, Anthony offers this advice:

“You have to have an invested heart.  Get to know the recovering Service member; really get to know them.  They will feel more comfortable if they trust you and know you have their best interest at heart.”

This is especially important since, as an RCC, Anthony feels that the recommendations and decisions that he makes will impact recovering Service members’ lives forever.

“I can’t think of a more important job than assisting our nation’s heroes,” he said.


Disability Evaluation

Service members can incur a wound, illness or injury at any time, whether serving in combat operations, during training evolutions, any other time on the job or even after hours. With the aid of exceptional medical care and adequate time to heal, many Service members can recover and return to full and unrestricted duty. Unfortunately, some Service members may suffer a long-lasting or permanent change from a wound, illness, or injury, and this may affect their ability to continue a military career. In this case, it is appropriate for them to be referred to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) process which will determine their fitness for continued military service.

Service members and their families do not have to navigate the IDES alone. The Department of Defense Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO) and the Veterans Affairs Military Service Coordinator (MSC) are non-clinical case management specialists who are trained and available to provide assistance and information to the Service member and their family and/or representative. During the IDES process, two evaluation boards will review a Service member’s case file documentation. A Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) will review the Service member’s record to decide if he/she meets medical retention standards. After the MEB, a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) will be convened to determine the Service member’s disposition—return to duty, separation, or retirement, either permanent or temporary. The Service member will begin receiving any VA benefits determined by the IDES process as soon as allowed by law.

If a Service member has questions about IDES, they should contact their MCS or PEBLO or visit the DoD Compensation and Benefits Handbook for Wounded, Ill and Injured Service Members for an IDES summary.