Driving onto the Monterrosa Military Barracks will without a doubt ignite a surge of emotions for most Salvadorans. A regal statue of the infamous commander stands ominously just beyond the entrance of the base. Lieutenant Colonel Domingo Monterrosa was the military commander during the civil war and leader of the notorious Atlacatl Battalion. His name alone has been plagued with a vehement connotation. Last week, the Armed Forces of El Salvador, in coordination with the Ministry of Health and several national and international NGOs, hosted a comprehensive medical campaign at the Monterrosa Military Barracks in the department of San Miguel. The services offered brought a refreshing and hopeful sentiment over the barbwire-lined walls surrounding the barracks.
The medial campaign was established by the Military Disability Support Unit just last year to provide integrated health services to injured war veterans and their families. Many injured and disabled veterans that live in rural areas don’t have access to proper medical facilities, and transportation to a military hospital can be extremely difficult. That is one reason why these campaigns are so well received. They bring a form a relief and an array of much needed services, absolutely free of charge, to some of the people that need it most.
Disabled Veterans and their families can receive not only medical attention such as clinical consultations, provisions for pure optical lenses, eye exams and dental work, but they also have access to other much needed services such as; prosthetics repairs and adjustments, psychological consultations, free legal services, and even career counselling. The campaign in San Miguel was the seventh of its kind this year and provided care to more than 150 veterans with disabilities in the area. Every month the Unit visits one of the 14 different departments in El Salvador.
Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Juarez serves as the Director of the Disability Support Unit and is also the Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Survivor Network. Lt. Col. Juarez has many aspirations for the future of the medical campaign and is proud to be involved with the Survivor Network.
The Survivor Network and its dedicated team of outreach workers have been instrumental in helping connect disabled veterans with the newly offered services, Juarez said. It’s the outreach workers who are in the field connecting with the survivors on a personal level. They not only provide peer support, but play an active role in connecting people to the services and assistance they need.
“This work is important to me,” Juarez said. “For me, my career is no longer just about military service, with my duties come a moral responsibility to humanity. To be an example of professional ethics and to help the people who need it most, is invaluable.”
Juarez entered military school in 1984 at the age of 17. His country in the midst of a civil war, he graduated as a lieutenant officer in 1989. Juarez began his military career as a commander in the infamous Atlacatl Battalion where he served for two years before the 1992 Peace Agreement was signed. His specialty was once infantry. Today Juarez uses his military rank and compassion for others to support his fellow countrymen through public service.
Lt. Col Juarez had the look of a proud father as we toured the different medical stations at the barracks. What makes the medical campaign so revolutionary is that the availability of specialized medical services for persons with disabilities in El Salvador is almost nonexistent. With limited funding, the coordination and collaboration among local and international institutions, in addition to government and military, is absolutely essential to the success of these campaigns.
The barracks whose very name evokes so much mixed-emotion, for one day this month became an invigorating make-shift clinic with enthusiastic doctors and smiling patients. The Military Disability Support Unit is working to heal the wounds of the past by providing an invaluable service to veterans with disabilities.
Lt. Col Juarez and Jesus Martinez, Executive Director of the Survivor Network, have been working closely to find ways to expand the campaign to include not just disabled veterans, but former combatants, guerrilla fighters and civilians who have injuries or disabilities from the war.
“It would be ideal if we could find a way to provide this type of support to all persons with disabilities and all people in need,” Juarez said.
 La Unidad de Coordinación y Apoyo a los Discapacitados de la Fuerza Armada (UCADFA)
Posted By Carolyn Ramsdell
Posted Jul 7th, 2009