USA — Official Calls Wounded Warriors Report ‘Unrepresentative’

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2010 — The focus of a New York Times arti­cle depict­ing neglect and suf­fer­ing endured by a group of wound­ed sol­diers recov­er­ing in an Army pro­gram is unrep­re­sen­ta­tive of the recov­ery effort at large, the Army sur­geon gen­er­al said today.

Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomak­er stopped short of the call­ing the arti­cle that appeared yes­ter­day inac­cu­rate, but said the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of sol­diers in war­rior tran­si­tion units are sat­is­fied with the recov­ery reg­i­men, accord­ing to an Army sur­vey.

“I don’t see them as nec­es­sar­i­ly craft­ing fic­tion,” Schoomak­er said to Pen­ta­gon reporters about the arti­cle. “But I do believe that it is whol­ly unrep­re­sen­ta­tive of the total­i­ty and the con­text of what we’ve done for war­rior care, espe­cial­ly in the last three years.”

Over­all, 81 per­cent of par­tic­i­pat­ing sol­diers are sat­is­fied with the pro­gram, and about 90 per­cent of wound­ed sol­diers recov­er­ing at Fort Car­son, Colo. — the focal point of the New York Times arti­cle — are sat­is­fied with their war­rior tran­si­tion unit accord­ing to the sur­vey, Schoomak­er said.

These fig­ures paint a pic­ture in stark con­trast to the New York Times report, which the paper said was based on inter­views with more than a dozen sol­diers and health care pro­fes­sion­als from Fort Carson’s tran­si­tion unit and reports from oth­er Army posts. The arti­cle states that war­rior tran­si­tion units have become “ware­hous­es of despair” for many sol­diers.

The Army sur­geon gen­er­al took umbrage at this por­tray­al of war­rior tran­si­tion units — which are respon­si­ble for some 9,300 sol­diers — call­ing it “a poor char­ac­ter­i­za­tion” and “almost 180 degrees of the truth.”

Schoomak­er was asked specif­i­cal­ly to com­ment on the report’s descrip­tion of the units as “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.”

“Of all of the descrip­tions in there, with the excep­tion per­haps of the suf­fer­ing that indi­vid­ual sol­diers and fam­i­lies have had,” he said, “that sen­tence alone is among the most offen­sive to us. And I think it whol­ly describes a sit­u­a­tion that we feel is not present.

“We wel­come you and any mem­ber of the press to go out and phys­i­cal­ly vis­it war­rior tran­si­tion units,” he con­tin­ued, “to talk with those sol­diers, to talk with their cadre and to see the larg­er con­text of how care is being deliv­ered.”

The arti­cle raised con­cerns about the over-pre­scrip­tion of drugs by doc­tors and the abuse or mis­use of both pre­scribed and illic­it sub­stances. A mil­i­tary offi­cial told reporters that 78 inci­dents of ille­gal drug use have been record­ed at the Fort Car­son war­rior tran­si­tion unit since 2008.

“We have con­cerns about the diver­sion of pre­scrip­tion drugs that can be used for recre­ation­al uses, just as in the nation at large,” Schoomak­er said. “That’s a big prob­lem right now across the coun­try. We’re also con­cerned because ille­gal­ly obtained drugs can be used as com­ple­ments to these oth­er drugs.”

Schoomak­er said an inspec­tion of war­rior tran­si­tion units by the Army inspec­tor gen­er­al will be com­plet­ed soon, and Army Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, com­man­der of War­rior Tran­si­tion Com­mand, is slat­ed to vis­it Fort Car­son to review poli­cies and prac­tices of their war­rior tran­si­tion unit lat­er this week.

“With 9,300 sol­diers cur­rent­ly in the pro­gram, we don’t always get it right,” Schoomak­er said. “To that end, we take every crit­i­cism and con­cern seri­ous­ly and con­tin­u­ous­ly strive to improve our pro­gram.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)