Warrior Transition Units: What is going on?
April 27th, 2010 by MOTHAX
Anatomy of a smear (?), or "warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers." Probably not a huge shock where I fall on this, and I will explain why in a minute. First, let us begin with the initial story by the New York Times:
...interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson’s transition unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries. For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers. Because of their wounds, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are particularly vulnerable to depression and addiction, but many soldiers from Fort Carson’s unit say their treatment there has made their suffering worse. Some soldiers in the unit, and their families, described long hours alone in their rooms, or in homes off the base, aimlessly drinking or playing video games.I'm going to come back to that last sentence in a while, so remember it. Anyway, the Army, rather than denying everything in the article decided to provide some context, and so last night held a press conference live-streamed on the Pentagon Channel. NYT gave the initial story 3 pages, and gave a one page follow up with about 50 percent of the follow up citing to things in their first story.
But General Schoomaker and the other officers did not dispute any of the facts in the article. “I don’t see them as necessarily crafting fiction,” General Schoomaker said, referring to The Times. “But I do believe that it’s wholly unrepresentative of the totality and the context of what we’ve done for warrior care.” [...] General Schoomaker said on Monday that surveys showed an 81 percent satisfaction rate for Warrior Transition Units, with even higher levels of satisfaction at Fort Carson in Colorado, the unit featured in The Times article. “With 9,300 soldiers currently in the program, we don’t always get it right,” General Schoomaker said. “To that end, we take every criticism and concern seriously and continuously strive to improve our program.”I have been lucky in my capacity here with The American Legion because not only have I been to many of the Warrior Transition Units, but I also had the ability to talk to both General Cheek and Schoomaker for about 45 minutes after this briefing. Now, my intent here is not to bash the NYT, although I do tend to do that a lot, but to provide some context. First off, as General Schoomaker noted, there are 9,300 soldiers in WTU's, and this piece only noted a few of them. Every unit, from the top down, has guys that complain. Heck, I was that guy for a long time. But let's look at some of the complaints and look at it in context. Two major complaints in the story bear noting, because they seem to refute each other. The first is this:
Some soldiers in the unit, and their families, described long hours alone in their rooms, or in homes off the base, aimlessly drinking or playing video games.Now, compare that with:
noncommissioned officers — soldiers supervising the unit — harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules. [and] Yet noncommissioned officers discipline soldiers who fail to complete those tasks, sometimes over the objections of nurse case managers and doctors.Look, I have no idea of what the proper ration is of discipline to allowing Joe to be Joe, but I do know that you can't complain about being left alone, and complain about having to go to formation at the same time. That makes no sense. It would seem to me that if you are well enough to drink all night and play video games, you ought to be able to attend formation. Now, for those wounded troops who are not ambulatory, I can understand that, but the vast majority of the guys cited in the NYT article are perfectly capable of locomotion. Watch the video of the press conference if you have an hour, or continue to read on. (Sorry for the Video Auto-play, not sure how to turn that off.) And so, not knowing what the proper ration is, I asked General Schoomaker and Cheek. In answering my question and those of the two other participants to the phone call, I got a better answer than I had before. The effectiveness of WTUs (according to both Generals) is predicated on three things: 1) A system in place to care for these wounded heroes; 2) Inspired soldiers who want to get better; and 3) successful alumni who can share with those recovering some of the experiences they had going through the system. And the system is largely successful. As mentioned above, the approval ratings in these units are higher than in line units, and the "return to duty rate" is a rather healthy 64 percent. When Soldiers go into a WTU, they can partially dictate what their goal is: 1) stay in their MOS, and recuperate, 2) recuperate, but transition to a new skill, or 3) Get out of the army, transition to civilian life. The short answer then that I got on the discipline question is that each treatment regimin, including disciplinary control, must be tailored to the individuals, mindful of burdens and potentials of each soldier. They noted that amputees tended to do better regardless of other injuries, because those service-members are (all the way from frontline back to here) subjected to caregivets etc who will get you back on your feet. They have good rolemodels in General Franks and others who have gone through this. This is not as much in place for the other guys who might be suffering from TBI or PTSD, or a less easily recognized (visually) wound. In prefacing my question, I advised the generals that I would be attending the Warrior Games next month in Colorado Springs. For those unfamiliar with those events, here it is described by the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment:
The Warrior Games will take place 10-14 May 2010 at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Sports include swimming, cycling, track & field, shooting, archery, wheelchair basketball*, and seated volleyball. This program is designed to elevate abilities through athletic competition for wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers, providing a focal event to empower the incorporation of athletics into Military Service wounded warrior programs. The Warrior Games will be an annual event to celebrate the achievement and abilities of wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers. This process provides the opportunity for servicemembers to qualify for U.S. Paralympics, while building camaraderie and raising awareness for adaptive sports. The Wounded Warrior Regiment will begin taking applications for athletes in mid-December. The Marine Corps will field a team of 50 athletes plus 10 alternates.One of my favorite posts I have ever done I did back when I was writing for the Sniper. I went with my battle buddy (VT Woody) and a few others over to Walter Reed to attend the graduation of a bunch of NCO's who happened to also have been wounded. As I said in that piece:
SFC Nelson challenged the students on their first day of training to “prove your abilities, versus any disabilities you might have.” It was quite clear that these weren’t wounded soldiers in this course, but warriors, who just also happened to have been wounded. One soldier had to be rushed to the Emergency Room twice during training because of heart problems. Another tore out stitches during the training. And yet they carried on, there is no quit in these people. “Cut and Run” is not only a mantra to Congress, it’s these soldiers mantra too, but in the sense that even if they are cut, bleeding or wounded in any manner, they’ll still be running to the front. Warriors, every one of them...All these troops are heroes, and I applaud all of them. SSG Deville completed the entire course in a wheelchair. As SMA Preston noted, just picture the difficulties in doing a left flank movement and trying to move around on your chair. SSG Hooper is the soldier who had stitches ripping while she went through the training.General Cheek broke it down this way... Each soldier in the WTU falls into one of three categories. Those who are going to excell and get past their physical limitations no matter what hurdle you put in their way. This is the kind of man or woman who ends up at the Warrior Games. On the other side of the spectrum is soldiers who no matter what you do are going to concentrate on what they have lost, not what they are capable of. These are a "leadership challenge." But the most prevalent and important group is that in the middle, soldiers who need mentorship and positive reinforcement to overcome the obstacles, but are focused on getting patched up as soon as possible. Times got the wrong picture on discipline. Wounded or not, these soldiers are in the Army until they transition to civilian life, and that means adherence to discipline and the Army Values. And General Cheek made the point that employers will hold soldiers to the same standard. Wounded or not, if you want to hold a job, you have to show up to work on time, and do what is asked of that job. By keeping troops to this standard now, despite hardship in doing so and recognizant of the fact that some just won't make it on account of medical issues, this prepares them for life after the WTU. As General Schoomaker said, while I am certain the NYT article is true, it also seems wholely unrepresentative of the whole of the WTUs. When I get to the Warrior Games in Colorado I hope to walk up to the NYT writers and introduce myself. If they will cover this side of the spectrum, I think it is incumbant on them to cover the other side too, those warriors who have overcome every obstacle thrown in their way.
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