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News | May 16, 2023

Airmen taking care of Airmen: AMTU-NCR eases medical process for members, families

By Bernard Little

Airmen taking care of airmen.

That is the aim of the Airman Medical Transition Unit, National Capital Region, or AMTU-NCR, explained, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Nicole Garris.
“Our mission at the AMTU is the same as the Army’s Warrior Transition Units, the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment, and the Navy’s Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor Program, which is to provide leadership, compassionate care coordination, and support for our Airmen with complex medical needs to aid in recovery to either return to duty, or transition to veteran status. And like the other services, we provide support to the families and caregivers of our wounded, ill and injured members,” said Garris, AMTU-NCR flight commander.

The AMTU-NCR at Walter Reed supports all military medical treatment facilities (MTFs) in the NCR, in addition to the network of other facilities that care for Airmen in the region, Garris said. Other fixed AMTUs include one at Travis Air Force Base supporting USAF David Grant Medical Center, and the other in San Antonio supporting Brooke Army Medical Center.
The care and services AMTU-NCR team provides Airmen and their families include registered nurse case managers, a first sergeant, an Air Force Wounded Warrior Program Recovery care coordinator, social workers, an internal medicine provider, and an enlisted team of medical administrative specialist.

“We’re a small team of 11 people with a huge reach and impact,” Garris shared.

“My AMTU has two teams, or as we call them in the Air Force, elements – one at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and the other in Tranquility Hall, Building 62 on Naval Support Activity,” she continued.

The AMTU is a catch function for Air/Space Force, and Air National Guard and Reserve members who have complex medical conditions. Airmen are considered for AMTU assignment (permanent change of station) or attachment (temporary duty assignment) when:

• Care cannot be provided at or near the member’s home unit
• Terminal, need family support, but not imminent
• Need for prolonged care is not easily provided
• Temporary care not to exceed 180 days
• Longer than 180 days permanent move/relocate member (PCS)
• Probable member will not meet retention standards
“For members who are on medical temporary duty assignment, the AMTU has operational control and functions as the patient’s command team,” Garris continued.
She added her team works closely with Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officers (PEBLOs). “For our assigned patients, the ones who PCS to us, we have an assigned PEBLO responsible for coordinating the Medical Evaluation Board administrative process and working with the member throughout the process until disposition.

“For our assigned patients who remain under their respective home units, we coordinate with the assigned PEBLO at the home MTF,” she added.

In addition to providing administrative and personnel support services through the AMTU Personnel Liaisons (APL) ranging from patient travel, billeting arrangements, accountability/wellness checks, and in- and out-processing, the AMTU provides a number of other services.

“We provide support for grocery shopping, securing Fisher House lodging for family members, and medical case management/care coordination,” Garris said.

Another AMTU resource is the Air Force internist interim primary care manager (PCM) support.

“Case managers are patient advocates and care coordinators who work with providers, ancillary health staff and families to address areas of concerns with informed decision-making. They help patients reach their optimal level of wellness,” Garris stated.

“We provide strong, supportive leadership and support of a host of helping agencies throughout the continuum of care. We synch all stakeholders for our medical TDY patients, which includes the home unit command team, the unit MTF, and the treating team in the NCR,” she added.

Garris said it’s rewarding to see a member recover and return to duty. “Those are great days, especially knowing the AMTU supported the member from arrival through treatments and departure from the AMTU.”

She said it’s also rewarding for her team to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of members who may have to retire or separate from the Air Force.

“When we honor them for raising their right hand to serve, support, and defend our Constitution. When we are there, the expression on their face and the faces of their loved ones is uplifting. We had a member who was terminally ill and wheelchair bound, and we traveled to Pennsylvania to do his retirement ceremony at the same location where he and his wife were married five years earlier,” she shared.

Garris explained that it can be “gut-wrenching” for her to team to watch Airmen become seriously ill as they go through treatment. “Often times the member will get worse before adjusting to treatment. To add to that, when I sit down with parents whose young adult is growing sicker, as a mother myself, it hurts my heart,” she said.

She added the AMTUs also must rely on a host of support from agencies to help resolve issues for patients. “It is a challenge not to have the ability to immediately resolve an issue for a patient that is severely ill, but we do try 100 percent.”

On average, the AMTU-NCR provides care and services for approximately 100 patients attached or assigned to the unit annually, Garris added. The average length of stay for members in the AMTUs is anywhere between 20 days to one year, according to Department of the Air Force officials.

“The AMTU is an expansive global communication link. We interface with patient movement centers, upwards of 100 command teams in a given year, and 30 MTFs. We synch with VA facilities, and rehab centers. We are a lifeline for Airmen receiving care at NIH, Johns Hopkins, INOVA, University of Maryland and anywhere in the NCR and as far as Richmond, Virginia. We use a biopsychosocial approach to ensure a full spectrum support because our members are much more than their complex medical condition. We support the whole Airman,” Garris said.

She explained the biopsychosocial approach encompasses a holistic focus including the biology (physical health, genetic vulnerabilities, drug effects), the psychological (coping skills, social skills, family relationships, self-esteem and mental health), and the social (peers, family circumstances and family relationships).

Whatever the needs of their patients, the AMTU’s mission is to provide “comprehensive and compassionate care coordination and to aid America’s Airmen as they continue on their road to recovery,” Garris added.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryne Pendilla, a liaison in the AMTU-NCR, explained he appreciates working in the unit because of the help he’s able to provide airmen and their families. “When my father became sick, I was not able to physically be there for him but knowing that I’m here for these patients kind of fills a void,” he said.

Flight Chief of the unit, Senior Master Sgt. Sarah Scott agreed it’s rewarding assisting her fellow airmen and their families. “It's rewarding to be that support system while they are going through a challenging period in their lives,” she said.

“It’s a reward to have a direct influence in them getting what they need,” added Staff Sgt. Andrew Hoffman, another liaison in the AMTU-NCR.

For additional information about the AMTU-NCR, visit their fact page here.
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