News: Fort Hood Ombudsman Program: Great support at Great Place
Story by Sgt. Christopher Calvert
FORT HOOD, Texas - On the second floor of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center sits room 2025, a small office, tucked away in the corner, that houses the Fort Hood Ombudsman Program, an organization consisting of five dedicated ombudsmen who offer their support for the Great Place’s 40,000-plus soldiers.
The Ombudsman Program was established in 2007 to augment the vice chief of staff of the Army’s Army Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline. Since the program’s creation, there have been 61 ombudsmen contracted at 35 locations in order to better service soldiers and their families.
Ombudsmen function as a resource in support of all service members and their families. Frequent issues they address include chain of command harassment, profile violations, medical boards, medical extensions, open-door policy, as well as numerous other medical-related concerns that are complex or overwhelming to troops unable to resolve them through normal channels.
For soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Brigade, ombudsmen may assist with any issue, both medical and non-medical. For soldiers not assigned to the WTB, the ombudsmen can provide assistance related to medical issues and refer the soldier to appropriate resources for non-medical issues.
The intent of this program is to help cut through red tape by linking soldiers and family members with the correct resources to answer questions, resolve issues, obtain accurate information and expedite services, Sandra Townsend, the first contracted Fort Hood ombudsman, said.
“This program originally only helped soldiers within the WTU, but now, 80-85 percent of our caseload involves non-WTU troops,” said Townsend, who retired as a command sergeant major from the U.S. Army Medical Command. “We started at about 100 cases a quarter, and now average a workload of 350 cases a quarter. soldiers, commanders and medical providers are finding we are an invaluable resource for education on regulations and procedures, as well as opening the lines of communication for issues service members may encounter.”
Townsend said the goal of the Fort Hood Ombudsman Program is not to take the place of a soldier’s chain of command or the inspector general, but to support troops when there is no place to turn and are not sure where to go for assistance.
“Ombudsmen do not investigate like the IG does; our processes are informal,” she said. “We are here to help those who serve our country and the issues they have as a result of their service. We care, and we want soldiers to know there is always someone here to help them work through any situation. If we are unable to provide a solution, we will link the soldier or family member with the appropriate subject-matter expert.”
Ombudsmen assist with the resolution of issues that come through the Army Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline, the Wounded Warrior Resource Center, as well as other referring agencies, while identifying and documenting lessons learned and communicating data to facilitate process improvements while immediately reporting issues beyond the scope of local resolution.
Ombudsmen likewise act as independent and neutral mediators who utilize administrative, organizational, listening and problem-solving skills, as they are selected for their demonstrated abilities and passion to help soldiers, said Olivia Walker, a Fort Hood ombudsman.
“I love helping people – it’s what I do,” said Walker, a retired sergeant major. “Giving guidance and counseling is something I’ve always enjoyed, and this program does a great job advocating soldiers.”
Walker said since joining the Fort Hood Ombudsman Program in 2008, she has had the opportunity to see soldiers’ lives and careers change for the better after consulting with her and her colleagues.
“Soldiers come to us for guidance, and once they see we are here to help, they begin building trust in us,” Walker said. “This program helps soldiers receive the care and benefits they deserve, while educating them on resolving issues at the lowest level. We want to make sure policies and procedures are known and leaders can make informed decisions to better help service members.”