By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein, Air Force News Service

WASHINGTON 5/5/2006 - (AFPN) — A common trait exists among the injured Airmen recuperating at hospitals in the capital region, said the Air Force chief of staff.

“Every Airman I’ve met wants to return to active duty and (his or her) unit,” said Gen. T. Michael Moseley in recent testimony on Capitol Hill. “I am proud of them and their courage as they travel the hard road to recovery.”

The determination of injured Airmen inspired the creation of a program dedicated to helping them — Palace HART, or Helping Airmen Recover Together. This program is offered to separated or retired Airmen with an illness or injury associated with operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom.

The Air Force’s goal is to retain injured Airmen on active duty. If an Airman cannot stay on active duty, then other options are explored through Palace HART. This includes finding them jobs in government civilian positions or making arrangements for higher education. Transition assistance counseling and relocation services are provided to the Airman and his or her family.

“I think the program speaks volumes for the commitment we have to our total force Airmen today,” said Brenda Liston, chief of Airmen and family readiness policy at the Pentagon. “In the past, assistance to service members was fragmented once they were separated or medically retired from the service, and it was up to the families to navigate their options themselves.”

Today, once an Airman is separated or retired as a result of a combat-related illness or injury, he or she is assigned a Palace HART case manager, who tracks the Airman’s case and advises him or her for up to five years.

“They really have the control to make their own choices,” Ms. Liston said. “Our job is just to do everything we can to give them information, get them stable again and so they are able to care for themselves.”

So far, the program has proved its worth, said Bill Sherman, who oversees the program from the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

“The biggest benefit is that total force Airmen in Palace HART have an advocate who that can assist them and their families, even after retirement or separation,” he said. “(The advocate) helps them work their way through the services available to them.”

He said the response from Airmen and families has been positive.

“The Palace HART members are delighted that someone is in their corner,” he said, “The team is there for them and their families when they are unsure about available services or run into a roadblock. Although we call them on a regular basis, Palace HART members have our toll-free number, and can call us anytime when faced with a concern or (when they) just want to chat.”

All Airmen, injured or not, should know that the Air Force is committed to their well being, no matter what, Mr. Sherman said.

“First and foremost, they should understand that the Air Force ensures these heroes will not be forgotten,” he said. “Every effort will be made to assist (injured Airmen) and their families in the transition to civilian life, and make certain they receive all entitlements due to them.”