Morale: Long Term Suffering

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April 27, 2010: The U.S. Department of Defense has fired the new (11 months in the job) head of the Wounded Warrior program, and is looking for someone else to do a better, or at least different,  job. The dismissed official, was a security and technology expert with long experience in working with the military. The Department of Defense is apparently looking for someone with more military background.

Most of the work of Wounded Warrior program, at least in terms of numbers, is done at Warrior Transition Units (WTUs), and the problem is that this organization has, as the months go by, a higher proportion of very badly wounded soldiers to care for. Heavy combat died down in Iraq two years ago, and the current surge Afghanistan is much smaller in comparison. Thus the less severely injured troops are leaving the WTU, while those who need more treatment are still there. The larger number of these troops, and the severity of their injuries, makes it more difficult for the WTU staff, and more difficult for the Wounded Warrior program to show progress politicians can brag about. The media are always eager to run stories of badly injured veterans being mistreated by the government, and WTUs are a convenient place for journalists to look for material.

Meanwhile, late last year, the WTUs also got an additional workload, with the addition of a physical conditioning program for wounded troops who were all patched up and ready to return to duty. But badly wounded American soldiers who reported back to their units after long (over six months) convalescence, discovered that they were not quite ready for active duty, much less combat. While the troops were healed, they had not had to take an army fitness test, or worn their combat gear. for over six months. This meant the returned troops had to hustle to catch up. When word of this got back to the recuperation units, a new program was established to ease the healed soldier back into the physical demands of serving with a combat unit. Now, when the troops return to duty, they have had several weeks to raise their physical fitness levels, and get used to wearing combat gear again.

All this is part of a three year old program the U.S. Army established to provide long term care for wounded troops who needed a long time to get well. This resulted in a network of 35 WTU, 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. 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 get special-duty pay of $225 a month. Sort of like combat pay, but given to any troops in particularly difficult jobs. As the WTU population becomes increasingly longer term wounded, with a higher proportion of troops with multiple physical and mental problems, the job becomes even more difficult.

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.

 

 


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