The men and women of our armed forces have shown time and again that they are willing to sacrifice everything and do whatever it takes in service to their country. That is why we have a responsibility as a nation to make sure that we do whatever it takes to meet the needs of our veterans and their families. Thomas Flaherty is doing all he can to fulfill that responsibility, and his tireless efforts are an inspiration and model, proving that whatever we are doing to care for our veterans, we could always be doing more.
Flaherty heads up the Air Force Survivor Assistance Program, whose primary mission was originally to provide prompt and effective support to the families of deceased personnel who were killed in aircraft mishaps. The office would arrange for Family Liaison Officers (FLOs) to provide these services.
Flaherty helped expand this program to cover all active duty deaths, about four a week for the Air Force. Next, as the hostilities escalated in Iraq and continued in Afghanistan, he saw that the wounded and their families needed the same kind of dedicated support. He started this program simply enough with an Airman who had lost his foot in Afghanistan. His original vision was to provide immediate assistance for the returning wounded Airman. But before too long he was arranging for their care throughout the extended convalescence period and helping them either return to duty or make the transition to civilian employment.
This facet of the program grew much too quickly for the infrastructure to support all Air Force personnel wounded in action. So Mr. Flaherty went to work expanding the infrastructure. He personally developed new contacts among units in the field, and military medical facilities at home and abroad to track evacuees all the way from the battlefield to their home station. His efforts helped ensure that soldiers had an FLO at each en-route stop and intermediate treatment center. He also worked every avenue to get the wounded member reunited with family at the earliest possible opportunity, in some cases getting family members to the treatment facility in Europe and then on their loved one’s medical evacuation flight back home.
And if Thomas Flaherty wasn’t going to limit his work to the original mission of his Air Force office, he certainly wasn’t going to limit himself to only helping members of the Air Force. In one instance, he helped an Air Force patient receive help for his Marine ward-mate. In another, he tracked down a wounded Marine and reunited him with his family. In fact, he has been assigned to a Defense-wide working group to establish standard tracking procedures for all war wounded.
Having dealt so much with the aftermath of death and injury, Mr. Flaherty then committed himself to working on prevention efforts. Car and motorcycle accidents are actually the biggest killers of active duty Air Force personnel, so Flaherty recruited the family members of accident victims to help him put together a video on how preventable these deaths are and how much they impact friends and family. This video is distributed to every Air Force unit, and Flaherty’s supervisors credit his work for contributing to a 20 percent drop in vehicular deaths in the first year.
Just when it appeared he’d done all he could do to care for the Air Force’s wounded or deceased and their families, he would do more. He expanded his program from covering aircraft deaths to all active duty deaths; expanded it again to cover the wounded; and expanded it again to focus on prevention. Most people think he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. He thinks it’s the least he could do. And that’s why he will certainly continue trying to do more.