Friday, April 30, 2010

Pentagon Wounded Warrior care official forced out

By Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
Stars and Stripes online edition

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon official in charge of the wounded warrior program said Sunday he has been forced to resign, as the military continues to struggle with how best to care for troops injured in combat.

Noel Koch said in an e-mail that he was asked to step down by Clifford Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel. Koch had been serving as the deputy undersecretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy.

The announcement came on the same day The New York Times published a scathing story that described the Army’s Warrior Transition Units as a place where physically or psychologically scarred troops are kept isolated and medicated.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had asked Stanley to do a full review of the Pentagon’s personnel and readiness office. He said this is not the first nor the last change to take place.

“He was given wide latitude to make needed changes so that our men and women in uniform are better served,” said Morrell. “What you’re seeing is that the overhaul of that vitally important office is under way.”

Koch said he believes the decision was unjust and that he resigned “under duress” after Stanley told him he had no confidence in him. The Pentagon had no comment.

“No explanation was given, although I pressed for one,” he said. “No prior indication of dissatisfaction with the work of this office was cited.”

The New York Times interviewed more than a dozen soldiers and health care workers at the WTU in Fort Carson, Colo., for its story. Many of the soldiers told the paper that the treatment they’ve received there has made their suffering worse.

“It is just a dark place,” said Spc. Michael Crawford, who suffered two concussions from roadside bombs in Iraq and is waiting to be medically discharged from the Army. “Being in the WTU is worse than being in Iraq.”

Crawford, an Army sniper, said he was given a variety of medications to deal with anxiety, nightmares, depression and headaches, but told the Times that his once-a-week therapy sessions with a nurse case manager was not enough. Last summer, he attempted suicide with a combination of whiskey and painkillers.

Since 2007, at least four soldiers in Fort Carson’s WTU have committed suicide, the Times reported, citing Army figures. There are currently 465 soldiers in the Fort Carson unit and 7,200 soldiers at 32 transition units service-wide.

Senior officers in the Army’s Warrior Transition Command cited Army surveys showed positive responses to the treatment by a majority of the more than 50,000 soldiers treated in WTUs since 2007.

Lt. Col. Andrew L. Grantham, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Carson, suggested to the Times that many soldiers are unhappy largely because they feel guilty that they aren’t with their regular units or are ashamed of receiving treatment.

“Some come to us with an identity crisis,” he said. “They don’t want to be seen

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