Thursday, May 8, 2008

Desperate, or just craven?

Since 2003, the United States has deployed over 40,000 troops to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in spite of findings that they were determined medically unfit for combat. This reliance on medically unfit troops is one more sign of the stresses our military is operating under.
Most of the non-deployable servicemembers are in the Army, which is doing most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 5% to 7% of all active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers slated for combat were found medically unfit due to health problems each year since 2003, according to statistics provided to USA TODAY.

Unit commanders make the final decision about whether a servicemember is sent into combat, although doctors can recommend against deployment because of a medical issue, Army spokeswoman Kim Waldron said.

"The commander consults with health care professionals to determine whether the treatment a soldier needs is available in theater," said Army Col. Steven Braverman of the Army Medical Command.

At Fort Carson, in Colorado, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham ordered an investigation into deployment procedures for a brigade deployed to Iraq late last year. At least 36 soldiers were found medically unfit but were still deployed, Graham told USA TODAY.

For at least seven soldiers, treatment in the war zone was inadequate and the soldiers were sent home, he said, and at least two of them should never have been deployed.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, the panel's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked Army leaders about an e-mail from the surgeon for the Fort Carson brigade that said medically "borderline" soldiers went to war because "we have been having issues reaching deployable strength."

"That should not be happening," Army Secretary Pete Geren told the committee. "I can't tell you that it's not, but it certainly should not be happening."

Meanwhile, soldiers with medical problems have also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from Fort Drum in New York and Fort Stewart and Fort Benning, both in Georgia, according to Brenda Farrell, who is leading an investigation into the practice for the Government Accountability Office.

Now lets get real for a moment - some of the things that caused a soldier to be classified as unfit for combat are pretty minor - the need for allergy medicine, eyeglasses or dental work, for example - but others were not so minor and have resulted in soldiers being returned stateside for treatment unavailable in-theater.

Doubly unsettling are the charges that soldiers with psychological problems were deployed to war in spite of findings that they were unfit for combat for mental health reasons. Thrusting those soldiers into that situation is in no way conducive to psychological healing.

Quite the opposite in fact. And when they come back even more compromised, and are out of the military, they will no longer their commanders problem - they will be societies. So maybe society should come out of the fog and demand a stop to this right now.

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