Sunday, March 22, 2009

Is the Army Breaking Its Wounded Warriors?

A lot has been said by the Army in regards to WTUs, or Warrior Transition Units. These units are said to be the Army's new and more compassionate answer to its wounded warriors, where soldiers can get better medical treatment, and are enabled and encouraged to make all medical appointments.

What's left implied and unsaid is how often regular units do not let soldiers make their medical appointments, encouraging wounded soldiers to simply "suck it up and drive on". If the Army overall treated its wounded soldiers well, there would be almost no need for WTUs. But perhaps we shouldn't strive for the moon-we shouldn't ask that every Army unit treat their wounded soldiers with the standard of care they are entitled to. Instead, we will examine the WTU system.

The Warrior Transition Units at Fort Bragg are under investigation for punishing these wounded soldiers too often and too unfairly. But are they the only ones? First, let's take a look at what these soldiers had to say about care at Bragg.

SSG Jason Jonas, diagnosed with a sleeping disorder who has been demoted due to oversleeping formation: "In my 10 years of service I have often seen soldiers mistreated, abused or left hanging, but never have I seen an entire unit collectively mentally and physically break down its members"

Retired Army Lt. Col. Mike Parker."It creates a hostile environment where soldiers buckle and take a low-balled disability rating and benefits just to get out when they can"

Sgt. Sheree Snow, evac'd with tumours, a hysterectomy, and sleeping issues, and who was also articled for missing morning formation after medication problems: "The leadership isn't trained to work with wounded soldiers...I feel that the unit holds us to such high standards because they do not know better."

However, these aren't the only cases of problems and incidents. Fort Hood WTU soldiers report other cases of individuals who have lost rank for missing morning formation while on heavy sleeping medications. Cancer patients report being disciplined for taking "too much" legitimately prescribed pain medication. PTSD patients report receiving punishments for missing appointments that they couldn't remember existed.

Germany WTU soldiers talk of (and I have witnessed some of) multiple separate incidents where soldiers have received Article 15s for incidents that occurred in different units, previous to their WTU assignment. Someone's first impression might be that these are simply disciplinary incidents that started in the unit in which they occurred, and followed soldiers to the WTU. However, since soldiers are unable to transition to the WTU while they are pending UCMJ, the real answer is that upon getting to the WTU, the command must have made the decision to punish soldiers for incidents that their previous commands made the on-the-ground decision not to punish them for. There are also soldiers who note that they have been disciplined for substance-related issues after self-referring to ASAP (which is not supposed to happen). Sexual assault victims report being disciplined after making sexual harassment complaints.


It has been suggested to me that I stop. It has been suggested that I shut up and just make things easier for myself. That if I wasn't complaining, weren't talking about all the things that were going wrong in the Army, I wouldn't have so many problems. Things wouldn't be hard for me. ve been told that the way to stop my getting threats, the way to stop the hassle I'm getting from someone in my command, is just to be quiet.

But I'm not going to stop. Because I know this is what they want. I know they want me not to expose what's going wrong. They want me to pretend everything is okay.

My commander says if I live the Army values, I won't have any trouble. I don't know if even he believes it, but that's what he says. Well, I'm going to do it, whether he likes it or not.
He asks me why I say the Army values the way I do. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage. Selfless Service. Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Why don't I say it the way everyone else does...the tired way, the repeating by rote, LDRSHIP. He doesn't seem to understand that these things mean things to me. I don't have to work to remember them. They're important to me. Living by them is what has gotten me into the trouble that I've had. Living by them isn't going to make my life any easier, or less full of Army trouble.
But they're what I am. They're what I do. They're what I feel. They're inside me, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.

And they're not going away.

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