The Associated Press
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Soldiers recovering in special Army medical units have faced inconsistent discipline because the military hasn't adopted standards for how they and their commanders should act, according to a military review.
The report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press said the units' leaders need better training and should do a better job of communicating with the almost 9,000 wounded and ill soldiers in the Warrior Transition system.
The general who ordered the report said Wednesday that the review will only improve the units.
"The Army has a tremendous program for taking care of our wounded, ill and injured soldiers, but it is not a prefect program," said Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, commander of the Warrior Transition Command. "We have to do our best for each and every one of them."
The review was ordered in March after The AP reported on soldier complaints that officers were indifferent to their medical needs and punished them for the very injuries that landed them in the unit.
"The lack of policy specifically stipulating Army expectations of Warriors in Transition contributes to misperceptions among soldiers and leaders and leads to inconsistent application of Army regulations and discipline," reads an executive summary of the report by the Army Surgeon General, which reviewed all discipline taken against soldiers in Warrior Transition units.
The 34 Warrior Transition units were set up two years ago to help soldiers navigate the medical system and monitor their progress and treatment following the scandal over shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Army officials said Wednesday they've clarified expectations since the review was completed in May, but stressed that a new standard was not created.
"This policy is basically a re-communication of things that apply to all soldiers with the added uniqueness of the WTU's situation," said Robert Moore, spokesman for the Warrior Transition Command.
The May report by the Army Surgeon General said that overall it appeared injuries weren't being overlooked in disciplinary matters at the units.
Soldiers in the Fort Bragg unit told the Secretary of the Army earlier this year that they feel forgotten by the military and that combat duty would be better than the treatment they get now, according to a memo obtained by the Associated Press.
The Surgeon General's report suggested ways to improve communication between commanders and soldiers.
"Commanders at all levels must establish routine interaction and personal meetings with either individual soldiers, or small groups of soldiers to establish confidence that the chain of command is accessible, responsive and compassionate," the report concluded.
Most of the units are spread out in different buildings. The Army is spending close to a billion dollars to build wounded warrior complexes at 20 posts, including Fort Bragg, to help centralize things and improve communication, Cheek said.
"It reenforced for me how critical it is that we build those complexes if we really want to do this mission correctly," the general said.
The review also recommended an additional training program for company commanders and First Sergeants to better prepare them for command. Cheek said company commanders are now required to meet with their troops, one-on-one, to build a relationship.
"The chain of command has got to be accessible, responsive, and compassionate," Cheek said.
Some improvements are already underway. Lt. Col. Terry McDowell, who took command in April of Fort Bragg's Warrior Transition Battalion, said incoming soldiers now have a timeline and a set of goals. It keeps the wounded soldiers motivated and allows doctors to set a target date to move them out of the unit.
Squad leaders, case managers and staff also now complete a two-week course that teaches them how to deal with medical issues like traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. It also explains the mission of the warrior transition unit and how it operates.
"When dealing with WT issues, you need to have multiple leadership tools in your bag to know when to put your arm around the soldier and prop them up or when to tell them to drive on with their mission," said McDowell, 42, from Bonaire, Ga. said in a June interview.