January 14, 2010:
The U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command is spending $1.2 billion to build special barracks for the thousands of recuperating troops it cares for. The troops have been staying at Warrior Transition centers while receiving long term medical treatment or undergoing rehabilitation. The new housing complexes, containing 3,788 beds, will be built, with a long list of items that wounded troops have been found to need. Some are obvious, like elevators (most troops are in wheelchairs or on crutches), hand rails, and prompt clearance of ice and snow from nearby sidewalks and crosswalks in the Winter. In addition, the complexes will have lounges, food courts and day care (some wounded troops will be there with their families), plus offices to help soldiers deal with any red tape or bureaucracy they might encounter. This last item has been a big help for the long term wounded.
All this is part of a three year old U.S. Army program to provide long term care for wounded troops. This resulted in a network of Warrior Transition Units (WTUs). There are now 35 WTUs, serving the needs of soldiers requiring six months or more of medical care before they are well enough to return to civilian life, or resume their military career. The average stay in WTUs is 220 days. The new building program will replace 23 of the existing centers. Most WTU patients have combat injuries, but there are many with accident injuries, and a few recovering from diseases contracted overseas. The WTUs were actually a development of a concept that first showed up in 2004.
Each WTU is staffed with a few officers and 15-20 NCOs (platoon sergeants and squad leaders). In addition there are nurses and other medical professionals. The WTU staff sees to it that those under their care receive the proper medical treatment on a timely and sufficient basis. The WTU staff deal with any paperwork problems, helping the patients cope with the many bureaucracies that come out of the woodwork. The WTU NCOs have the hardest jobs, because they are often combat veterans themselves, relate well to the patients, and they are the main problem solvers. This is particularly useful for WTU patients who are reservists, and are not familiar with a lot of the active duty paperwork and procedures. Because of the stress placed on the WTU NCOs, they will be special-duty pay of $225 a month. Sort of like combat pay, but given to any troops in particularly difficult jobs.
Before the WTUs, wounded troops needing long term care had to handle the various bureaucracies themselves, and this proved to be quite a burden. Troops were isolated from other troops, and this meant a lot of strain on their friends and families. The WTUs eliminated most of the hassle, enabling troops to concentrate on getting better.
Since the war in Iraq basically ended (as far as creating lots of American casualties anyway) last year, there has been a sharp drop in patient load for the WTUs. Afghanistan casualties are up, but they are much less than what the Iraq fighting generated. Thus the WTUs have the resources for new programs, like getting troops who insist on getting ready to return to combat. Many badly wounded troops want to stay in the military, and now this is possible, even if the soldier is missing a limb.