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Thursday, May 31, 2007

She received a bouquet of flowers: Veterans Administration Transitional Patient Advocate

Eric Kundert joined the Army in 2003 while still in his senior year of high school. His second tour of duty in Iraq was from January 2005 to August 2005 as a scout, during which time he was severely injured. The sniper shot entered the right side of Eric’s jaw just below the ear drum and exited out the left side. Both mandibles were fractured and his jaw was wired shut for about three weeks. He suffered significant hearing loss in both ears from nerve damage as well as traumatic brain injury, where he still has three contusions on the brain. It will take up to three years for them to heal.

He was initially treated in Baghdad, then was transferred to Landstuhl, Germany, and in September 2005 was sent to Walter Reed for over a year and a half of hospitalization. There he conducted intensive physical therapy to regain balance due to the hearing loss and residual effects of the brain trauma. He continues to have ear problems with fluid buildup and wears a hearing aid, which provides some hearing in his right ear. He has anxiety problems and difficulty sleeping.

Jeanne Button became Eric’s Transitional Patient Advocate as he finished the clearing process from the hospital on May 4, 2007. Jeanne was the first VA Transitional Patient Advocate to enter Walter Reed Medical Center. Now upon return, every combat vet is supposed to receive a point-of-contact person and case manager. Serious mentally or physically ill patients should also receive a Transitional Patient Advocate like Jeanne, to help them with the transition to civilian life. All soldiers apply for VA status and receive a physical and mental health assessment. They are discharged between 90-120 days after their return. Eric was officially medically retired from the Army on May 24.

"We treat first and sort out the other things later. If they’re calling us, we’re going to get them in," said Jeanne. "We assess the severity of the individual and try to help them as quickly as possible."

Because of Eric’s hearing loss and anxiety, she was especially helpful in the process, she said. "I was glad that I could be there with him, not only to learn the process, but to assist him through it. And I could tell that having a patient advocate with him made a difference on how he was treated."

Upon Eric’s homecoming to Broadhead, Wisconsin, Jeanne received a bouquet of flowers for her efforts.

Advice to returning veterans:
Get an experienced patient advocate, even if it’s late in your recovery. Any veteran in need of assistance can call Jeanne Button, who works for the Veterans Health Administration, at 1-800-872-8662 ext. 61287 for guidance, support or services.

Read another of our returning veteran’s stories, or read Keith Zukas’ source story.

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