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Fourth annual Warrior Care in the 21st Century Symposium forges path ahead

Mr. Bret Stevens, director of disability evaluation systems, DoD Health Services Policy and Oversight and United States WC21 co-chair (left), Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, surgeon general, Australian Defence Force (center), and Air Commodore Rich Withnall, United Kingdom WC21 co-chair (right) pose for a photo. Senior representatives from 11 nations discussed warrior care challenges, lessons learned, and innovations during this year’s event. (Photo courtesy from the Australian Defence Force) Mr. Bret Stevens, director of disability evaluation systems, DoD Health Services Policy and Oversight and United States WC21 co-chair (left), Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, surgeon general, Australian Defence Force (center), and Air Commodore Rich Withnall, United Kingdom WC21 co-chair (right) pose for a photo. Senior representatives from 11 nations discussed warrior care challenges, lessons learned, and innovations during this year’s event. (Photo courtesy from the Australian Defence Force)

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In October, DoD and Veterans Affairs personnel, including clinicians, researchers, and community organization representatives, joined partner nations in Sydney, Australia, for the fourth annual Warrior Care in the 21st Century (WC21) Symposium. The WC21 coalition facilitates global sharing of best practices and lessons learned in medical and non-medical military health care. Annual symposia enable partnering nations to exchange information while developing and validating workable solutions to short- and long-term challenges surrounding the resilience, recovery and rehabilitation, and reintegration of wounded, ill, and injured service members. Each year, participating nations collaborate on these enduring WC21 themes while continually seeking new perspectives and ideas that will enhance warrior care practices.

Mr. Bret Stevens, director of disability evaluation systems, DoD Health Services Policy and Oversight and the United States WC21 co-chair, underscored the importance of forward thinking. “These annual symposia serve as a platform, and the WC21 initiative itself as a conduit, for multilateral discussion and action related to innovative care and evolving protocol that addresses head-on the challenges of modern warfare and generational changes within the military.” This year, the coalition expanded its scope, agreeing to collaborate on new research and initiatives.

“Warrior Care in the 21st Century allows the opportunity to learn from each other and be better prepared for the challenges,” said Australian Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, AM, surgeon general and host of the symposium. “The international perspective we gain from events like this is crucial to bring us to the next level.” Advancements in technology, science, and knowledge drive improvements to warrior care practices across all nations. Smart emphasized the importance of this continued progress, challenging attendees to shift their way of approaching warrior care – citing resilience techniques that “change trajectories from post-traumatic stress disorder to post-traumatic growth,” as an example.

This year’s WC21 symposium saw the return of many nations that participated in previous years’ symposia, signifying their enduring commitment to warrior care. Nations represented this year included Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Georgia, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The symposium consisted of plenary sessions with a specific focus on research and evidence; development and application of programs and practices; and innovation and collaboration—all designed to drive better outcomes for wounded, ill, and injured service members. These important discussions enabled the nations’ representatives to establish tangible objectives for the coming year to address the most pressing challenges facing wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families.

“We can’t just let this be an opportunity to come together,” said Stevens. “We are responding to a demand signal that we need to pursue information that will enable us to provide actionable outputs to improve the programs we provide to our wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families.”

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