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AF-wide Palace HART program helps wounded warriors

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The Air Force is serious about taking care of its wounded Airmen. Whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, combat-related injuries and illnesses can have long-lasting effects on Airmen and their families - far beyond the battlefield.

That's why Palace HART, or Helping Airmen Recover Together, was created.

"The Air Force will provide the same level of loyalty and commitment in the care of those (ill or injured Airmen) as it does in preparing them for deployment and combat," said Bill Sherman, the chief of the Airman, Family and Community Operations section of the Directorate of Personnel Services at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. "If it is not feasible for them to remain on active duty, the Air Force will ensure they receive extraordinary assistance via Palace HART."

To best serve each Airman's needs, the program manages cases on a one-on-one basis. Palace HART offers a multitude of services, including:

-- Assignment of a family liaison officer by the Survivor Assistance Program and a community readiness consultant by the local airman and family readiness center and/or an Air Force Personnel Center Palace HART staff member through all phases of the process, as needed.

-- Help in the retention of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom disabled Palace HART Airmen on active duty, if possible.

-- Expanded financial, relocation and employment services and extended follow-up for Palace HART Airmen and their family members separating from the military.

-- Assistance with initial filing of Department of Veterans Affairs disability claims, along with consultation and analysis for possible placement on the temporary disability retired list.

-- Case-management follow-up, tracking and quarterly personal contact Palace HART Airmen and their immediate family.

-- Special Air Force federal civilian employment placement assistance for ill or injured Palace HART Airmen with 30-percent or more disability who cannot be retained on active duty. All others will receive employment counseling directed toward employment with the civilian sector.

Palace HART currently serves nearly 150 Airmen from active duty, the Guard and Reserve. The program grows by roughly five to seven Airmen every month.

Heidi Meisterling, community readiness consultant for D-M's Airmen and Family Readiness Center, said it's rewarding to be a part of the program. "As a case manager, the greatest part for me is that I've been able to serve and assist some of the most commendable members of the Air Force," she said. "I see how the program has positively impacted participants and have personally received their appreciation and gratitude.

"The Palace HART program demonstrates that the Air Force recognizes the great sacrifices of our injured Airmen and is committed to giving them the highest level of care," Ms. Meisterling added.

To date, the D-M AFRC has processed four Palace HART cases. Two currently reside in the Tucson area and are being actively tracked by the AFRC.