Soldiers Sent to Iraq Despite Illness

Medical records show that Army orthopedic surgeon Nick Sexton classified him as non-deployable Aug. 25. Sexton wrote that Aiyetoro is unable to wear his body armor and recommended a medical review that could lead to a medical discharge.

Central Command specifically forbids a solder to deploy if body armor cannot be worn: "In general, individuals should not deploy … (with) conditions which prevent the wear of personal protective equipment, including … body armor."

A revised evaluation issued for Aiyetoro a few days later by another doctor found that he could wear body armor but "only during mission-essential movements."

The Army did not make Sexton available for an interview. Stephens, the hospital commander, declined to discuss Aiyetoro's case despite a waiver Aiyetoro signed allowing Stephens to do so. Stephens said in situation's like Aiyetoro's, it is possible for an initial medical opinion to later be overruled.

Since then, doctors have again changed Aiyetoro's medical status. In February, doctors concluded that Aiyetoro needed further tests on his back to determine the extent of injuries and he needs additional tests to determine whether his tuberculosis is active, according to court records.

Aiyetoro says commanders cared more about filling their ranks than about him getting better when they ordered him to deploy in September. They made him feel like a malingerer for complaining about his back pain, he says, and "they pretty much classified me as a dirt bag."

"They were not intending on getting me better (as much as) getting me on that plane," says Aiyetoro, 36, married and the father of four.

The command offered to allow him to resign. Aiyetoro chose a court-martial instead, the trial is slated for Monday at Fort Richardson, outside Anchorage. "If I walk right now, it's as if I never served in the military," he says, explaining that he would lose benefits if he resigned.

McElroy says he also felt pressured by commanders. A veteran of a previous tour in Iraq, McElroy aggravated a shoulder injury in 2006 when his Stryker vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.

An initial surgery after his return from combat failed to correct the damage, according to his records, and he underwent another operation last September. His surgeon, Gregory Komenda, wrote in a December report that McElroy "should be considered unable to perform his duties." Military doctors reached the same conclusion with one, Mark Clifford, writing in a January report, "Soldier is unable to perform Infantry tasks."

Yet McElroy's immediate commander continued to tell him he would deploy, first saying the second surgery should be delayed and then saying McElroy would leave for Iraq after a 30-day, post-operative convalescence, McElroy says.

After months of haggling, records show, McElroy was finally slated for a medical review and a possible discharge for health reasons. McElroy says he was accused of malingering and being a "sorry excuse for a non-commissioned officer," because of his health issues.

In December, he says, he was told that if he was not in Iraq, he would be charged with malingering. The charges never came, and at the urging of Army doctors, McElroy was eventually slated for a medical board review that could lead to a medical discharge.

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