Fort Bragg finds need for improvement in wounded warrior battalion

The base commander ordered an inspection of the battalion after receiving complaints, and finds that leaders need to communicate better with injured soldiers and their families.

mquillin@newsobserver.com April 17, 2012 

— Fort Bragg needs to look beyond its own base to find the best leaders to run its wounded warrior battalion, and they must do a better job of helping wounded soldiers understand how the Army decides whether they can stay in service, a review has found.

The review found several other areas where Fort Bragg could improve the way it works with soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion, which includes those injured in combat, on deployment, in accidents, or with serious illnesses. As a result of their injuries or illnesses, many of the soldiers are “transitioned” out of the Army.

Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, ordered the review a month ago after receiving email complaints that some soldiers in the battalion felt they were being mistreated.

“We have conducted a thorough inspection of the Warrior Transition Battalion here at Fort Bragg,” Brig. Gen. Michael X. Garrett said at a press conference Tuesday. “And while verifying our previous statement about the quality and caliber of care and support provided as a whole to wounded, ill and injured soldiers, we have discovered there are several areas where we can make improvements, and we will.”

Since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has faced an immense challenge in caring for service members returning from combat with disabling mental and physical problems, including PTSD, brain injuries and lost limbs. As many as one in five soldiers serving in combat could be diagnosed with PTSD, the Army has said.

In the mid-2000s, Walter Reed Army Medical Center was shown to be neglecting injured soldiers and the facilities in which they were treated. Military bureaucracy compounded soldiers’ troubles.

In Seattle in February, a memo released to the media indicated that forensic psychiatrists at Madigan Army Medical Center had been urged to reduce PTSD diagnoses among soldiers they screened to limit the government’s liability for their care.

Meanwhile, the Fayetteville Observer newspaper reported that it has been contacted by 40 soldiers or family members with complaints about the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg in recent weeks. Some said their medical records had been improperly changed. Others said they had been overmedicated or accused of malingering.

Fort Bragg now has 492 soldiers in its Warrior Transition Battalion.

Officials did not release the results of the review; Garrett said he was summarizing from it.

Garrett said that in the past, Fort Bragg has relied on candidates based at Fort Bragg when looking for leaders for the Warrior Transition Battalion. This is some of the most difficult work in the Army, Garrett said, and trained professionals should be sought Army-wide.

Within the battalion, Garrett said, leaders need to do a better job of explaining to soldiers and their families that an injured soldier may not be able to return to duty. Soldiers themselves are part of the problem, Garrett said; many have not been attending town hall-style meetings scheduled for them. In the future, attendance will be mandatory.

“We have got to continue to seek better ways to manage expectations,” Garrett said, so that soldiers and families are not surprised, whether the soldier is sent back to work or discharged. “We give them the best answer we can,” he said. “It’s just not always the answer they want.”

Fort Bragg says more than half of its wounded warriors eventually return to duty.

While the battalion meets training requirements, Garrett said, new staff will get additional training to emphasize compassion and empathy. All staff, the review found, should get more training on the processes the Army uses to determine whether a solider can return to duty, as well as the process through which soldiers leaving the military move into the Veterans Administration system.

Garrett said the inspection found no problems with the prescription or administration of medication.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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