Medical officials estimate that 25 percent to 35 percent of about 10,000 ailing soldiers assigned to special wounded-care companies or battalions are addicted or dependent on drugs — particularly prescription narcotic pain relievers, according to an Army inspector general’s report made public Tuesday.
The report also found that these formations known as Warrior Transition Units — created after reports detailed poorly managed care at Walter Reed Army Hospital — have become costly way stations where ill, injured or wounded soldiers can wait more than a year for a medical discharge.
Some soldiers have become so irate about the delays in leaving the Army that doctors, nurses and other medical staff say they have been assaulted in their offices and threatened, or had their private cars damaged or tires flattened, the report says.
While I cannot vouch for the doctors receiving threats, I can vouch for the addiction to pain meds and the endless wait time while enduring the Army Med Board process. I left Walter Reed after “only” 9 months, a relatively short wait considering the normal length of time. My prescription to Methadone (from Walter Reed) unfortunately lasted longer. It took 3 weeks of horrendous withdrawal to finally quit. Had I known the withdrawal effects of Methadone I would have said no thanks and endured the pain instead.
After nine years of war, the Army medical-discharge process has become a bureaucratic backlog where nearly 7,800 soldiers wait for their cases to be reviewed. That’s nearly a 50 percent increase since 2007, according to the investigation.
The “process is complex, disjointed and hard to understand, and takes approximately seven to 24 months,” the report says. For the high-care warrior units, it means many of their soldiers wait more than a year for a medical release from the Army.
“Not only is this bad for the Army,” the report says. “It [is] also bad for the individual soldier. He or she languishes in a system that, despite the best efforts of commanders, medical providers and social workers, delays their return to civilian life.”
The warrior units were created across the Army in June 2007 in response to news media reports that the processing of wounded and ill soldiers at Walter Reed was poorly managed. The warrior units — where many ill, injured or wounded troops are temporarily assigned — have nurses, case managers and squad leaders to guide each soldier through the health care system.
I was at Walter Reed during the so-called scandal. Let me make this clear (again). The medical care you get at Walter Reed is (for the most part) great. I had some of the best surgeons in the world patching me back together. The same goes for prosthetics. And I cannot say enough positive things about the physical and occupational therapy I received.
The problem is with the overall Army Med Board process. Its a nightmare. I bounced around from one strange office to the next trying to find people in departments I had never heard of so I could get their signature so I was “cleared” to be discharged from the military. My PEBLO (physical evaluation board liason officer) was a burned out hippe who – on a couple different occasions – was caught sleeping at her desk in the middle of the day. (The office had a “check-in” office you were supposed to go to first. They would then call into the “main office” (right across the hall, behind a closed door) to try and contact your PEBLO. Some of us eventually said screw the check in desk (we figured they were avoiding us) and started walking right into the main office. Thats when she was caught napping.)
The Med Board process needs a fix. When I was there in 2007 there was no manual to help, no map to follow. The only way to learn the process was to keep asking people who were there longer than me and keep hounding the people in charge of my Med Board (see sleeping burned out hippe PEBLO).
Sadly, it doesn’t sound like much has changed.