By Shannon Leonard
Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor Public Affairs
Warrior Care Month kicked off Nov. 1, and, throughout the month, wounded warriors are sharing their powerful stories. Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Elaine Outlaw – a wounded warrior battling a serious illness, who hails from Navy Region Southwest in San Diego – sat down with Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor (NWW) and spoke from the heart, hoping to bring attention to the valuable resources available to assist wounded warriors.
Outlaw joined the Navy in 2012 and planned to make a career out of it. However, her life changed forever in March of this year after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves. She is learning a new way of life, and if that is not enough for one person to handle, her husband is recovering from his fourth spinal surgery and her mom is battling cancer.
Soon after her diagnosis, Outlaw recognized she needed help and enrolled in NWW, the Navy’s sole organization for coordinating the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsman, and providing resources and support to their families and caregivers. “I realized, through research on MS, that I am going to get worse. I recently lost vision in my right eye, and I know I am not going to have a military career with this disability. I have to choose another path. NWW has given me a new path,” said Outlaw.
Outlaw, a strong willed, type-A personality, credits NWW with helping her find her way in unfamiliar territory. “Instead of getting stuck in a downward spiral of negativity and thinking everything was going to fall apart, NWW helped me to start planning for my future. They were the light at the end of the tunnel, putting things in place for me and my family so we could end up on the other side, safe and secure,” she said.
Outlaw’s daily struggles with her disease, her husband’s medical condition and her mom’s terminal cancer also brought on depression. She found NWW very beneficial in getting her through the dark times. “You need something to hold onto and NWW was there for me, even if I just needed to talk,” Outlaw added.
The unexpected diagnosis of MS may have brought on a dark cloud, but there is a silver lining. She discovered a joy for yoga. YogaFit Warrior Program – a type of yoga designed to heal a warrior’s mind, body and spirit – is something Outlaw would never have tried before her diagnosis. “My goal is to start studying yoga for wounded warriors and eventually teach when I get home. I want to help others,” she said. Outlaw, her husband Rodney, and their two young children, Sydney, age 5, and Tobin, age 1, are planning on moving back to Walla Walla, Wash., to be near their family and friends.
An important part of recovery is the development of a comprehensive recovery plan, an individualized plan developed by a non-medical care manager, which identifies and prioritizes goals for the NWW enrollee. NWW then assigns a recovery care coordinator to each enrollee. “The great thing about Elaine is her attitude. It took her a while for her to come to terms with her illness and the fact that this was going to be the new normal. Her and her husband have sat down and discussed how their life has changed, and they are planning for the future. They work on it every day, and not every day is rosy. The process of what they needed to do to prepare for their future has become organized,” said Alice Slomko, Outlaw’s NWW recovery care coordinator.
Outlaw is a strong advocate for NWW. “I try to convince folks in my command to come here and call to get help. I have a friend that will be getting help soon due to my recommendation. It’s nice to have a support team that you can call to help you,” she said.
In 2008, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates designated November as Warrior Care Month to increase awareness of programs and resources available to wounded, ill and injured service members, their families, and those who care for them. The term “wounded warrior” does not just refer to combat-wounded service members, but also includes those suffering from serious illnesses.
NWW offers many essential services, including connecting families to respite care resources, addressing pay and personnel issues, assisting with housing and transportation adaptation, providing transition assistance, offering adaptive athletics opportunities, and more.