Friday, July 11, 2008

David Martin Catches the Army in a Startling Admission

Every once in a while, the working media at the network level gets something right. CBS News Correspondent David Martin nails one of the generals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in a major, major gaffe.
In the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, 35 so-called "Warrior Transition Units" were set up at bases around the world. They were supposed to be places where soldiers could be cared for until they either returned to duty or were discharged.

But the general in charge of the program admits it hasn't been working the way it was supposed to. Here's why.

"How many soldiers in these units were actually wounded in combat?" Martin asked.

"About 12 percent were wounded in either Iraq or Afghanistan," Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek said.

"Only 12 percent?" Martin said.

"Only 12 percent," Cheek said.

If you include those whose injuries could be called combat-related - a stressed-out soldier in a car accident after returning from Iraq, for instance - the percentage goes up to 48 percent.

The rest have injuries or illnesses which have nothing to do with combat. As a result, the number of soldiers in Warrior Transition Units exploded from 6,000 to 12,000 - even as casualties in Iraq were going down.

"We were putting soldiers into the Warrior Transition Unit that really didn't need that complex, managed care," Cheek said.

"So did somebody say, 'Hey, this isn't how it was supposed to work?'" Martin asked.

"I would say yes," Cheek said.

I would say, "fix that problem immediately, and if no one gives you the resources to do it, tell someone BEFORE another reporter finds another massive problem at a major installation and exposes the shocking gaps in medical care that our soldiers are finding when they are injured, sick or wounded.

For every instance where a soldier is injured in combat, or injured in a combat zone, there are still the same basic needs for health care that existed before the Iraq War. Those needs are, by the admission of General Cheek, not being met because the programs designed for wounded warriors are swamped by the needs of soldiers should have already had the resources in place to care for them. The necessary expansion and increase in active duty health care hasn't met the needs. I want to stress something--the Veterans Administration is already overwhelmed. And so is the care given to active duty troops and troops activated for combat duty. The strain must be incredible--so where are the doctors, nurses and health care professionals to meet that demand? Why hasn't the military gone out and either activated them or recruited them or trained them?

We are nearly seven years past the attacks of September 11 and the invasion of Afghanistan; we are over five years past the war in Iraq. And no one thought this was going to be a problem?
With the number of soldiers in transition units increasing by about 600 a month, the Army can't hire health care workers fast enough.

"By the time we got the ratio up to where it needed to be, we were probably 30-to-60 days behind what the population had already grown to," Cheek said.

Last week the Army tightened the medical conditions that qualify a solider for a Warrior Transition Unit. And a new order requires all units to be fully staffed by Monday, but some aren't going to make it.

So when they say "tightened" they mean--they've kicked out the ones who needed care because they weren't already getting the care they needed and they're trying to hold open spots for the soldiers who aren't wounded yet.

It's time to clean house and get the personnel that are needed. If this is the state of medical care in the military, then the current leadership at the general officer level needs to go--and be replaced by a more creative and driven group of men and women who are in those middle grades and who want to step up and start solving these problems.

What a disgrace. Is there anyone in the support element of the United States Army who can figure out that we're actually in a war right now? We have a Combat Arms part of the Army that can definitely fight, and fight like no other Army in history and we have a support infrastructure that can't get them medical care, can't get them the gear they need and is struggling to adapt to the wars we're fighting now.

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