By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
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."