Pentagon Pushes Back on Soldier Neglect Story
Officer refutes report saying soldiers treated in "warehouses of despair."
WASHINGTON, April 26, 2010— -- The Army's top medical officer today sharply denied a report that mentally wounded soldiers are being treated in "warehouses of despair," calling the newspaper characterization "poor" and "almost 180 degrees of the truth."
The New York Times said it based its front-page Sunday story on interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health professionals stationed at the Army's Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Carson, Colo., quoting one active duty soldier who said his year-long experience at the WTU was "worse than being in Iraq."
Instead, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker argued, most soldiers in the Army's 35 transition units are satisfied with the way they are treated. He said the overall satisfaction rate is 81 percent, and at Fort Carson, it is closer to 90 percent.
"It's wholly unrepresentative of the totality in the context of what we've done for warrior care," Schoomaker said of the New York Times story.
But some relatives of soldiers who have lived at the Fort Carson unit, designed to ease wounded soldiers in either returning to battle or to civilian life, say the paper's depiction is accurate and that the military personnel and civilian case workers stationed at the facility are ill-trained and ill-equipped to deal with the mental wounds soldiers suffer on the battlefield.
"I don't think, really, that these people are qualified to handle these guys," said Ashley Nowicki, whose husband, Sgt. Keith Nowicki, committed suicide in March 2009 after spending nearly a year at the Fort Carson WTU awaiting a medical discharge for post-traumatic stress disorder following his second deployment to Iraq.
While doctors and nurses are stationed at the transition units, the Warrior Transition Command is headed not by a career military physician, but by an artillery officer. The unit at Fort Carson is led by an intelligence officer.
"It needs to be run by medical personnel -- period," said Sally Darrow, the mother of a soldier who attempted suicide during his nearly year-long stay at the unit.
"He was depressed. He was feeling hopeless and helpless and they weren't doing anything but babysitting," Darrow said of her son, Pvt. Michael Crawford.
"He never went to therapy. There was nothing. They just gave him medicine," Darrow said. "I've got a bag full of medications that they want my son to take."