Bush sends injured soldiers to Iraq war

Rumsfeld and wounded Iraq war veteran, cartoon by Tom Toles

From salon.com in the USA:

The Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq

At Fort Benning, soldiers who were classified as medically unfit to fight are now being sent to war. Is this an isolated incident or a trend?

By Mark Benjamin

March 11, 2007 | COLUMBUS, Ga. — “This is not right,” said Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who has been ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged further by heavy Army protective gear.

“This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers,” he said angrily.

“If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight.”

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle.

Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

See also here.

And here.

National Guard in Iraq war: here.

Walter Reed scandal update: here.

US Veterans Administration hospitals: here.

11 thoughts on “Bush sends injured soldiers to Iraq war

  1. Posted by: “Corey” cpmondello@yahoo.com

    Wed Mar 21, 2007 5:34 pm (PST)

    How many service members have been wounded and where are they currently being cared for?


    March 21, 2007

    There have been more than 18,000 injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of these less than half required greater than 72 hours hospitalization.

    As of January 2006, there have been 387 individuals with limb loss. These patients have been cared for predominantly at Walter Reed Army Medical center in Washington DC and at Brooke Army Medical Center. All have initial care in theater, are moved to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany, and then generally moved to WRAMC, BAMC or Bethesda Naval Hospital for initial care. Prosthetic fitting and rehabilitation occurs at WRAMC and BAMC after initial care. There are a few that have gone to other medical treatment facilities closer to their home.

    Other seriously injured are treated at the most appropriate treatment facility – burns go to the Institute of Surgical Research (the burn center at BAMC), Spinal Cord injuries are moved to VA spinal cord treatment facilities as soon as possible, as are severe traumatic brain injuries.


    Facts and Statistics

    To date more than 20,000 men and women have been wounded in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq

    According to U.S Senate research, is that the amputation rate has doubled: 6% of those injured in Iraq have amputations compared with 3% in previous wars.

    As of April 30, there were 268 amputees, 41 of whom had lost two limbs. There are triple amputees, according to Walter Reed Officials. Unfortunately, these numbers will continue to rise.

    Over all 90 percent of soldiers wounded in Iraq survive. In Vietnam, only 76 percent of the wounded did so.

    Hundreds of soldiers have been severely burned, and some initial reports indicate that soldiers have suffered eye injuries at a rate far higher than any previous war.


  2. Part #2 – Army deployed seriously injured troops
    Posted by: “Corey” cpmondello@yahoo.com cpmondello
    Mon Mar 26, 2007 3:56 am (PST)

    Part #2 – Army deployed seriously injured troops


    Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins was one of those soldiers at NTC with a hurt back, even though late last year, doctors recommended he be considered for medical retirement. Jenkins, 42, has a degenerative spine problem and a long scar down the back of his neck where doctors fused three of his vertebrae during surgery. He takes morphine for the pain in his neck and back.

    “I slept on a damn metal cot for 26 days with serious back problems,” Jenkins told Salon. “It was an unpleasant experience,” he said, adding that his condition worsened while he was there. Hernandez, the communications specialist, said he reinjured his ankle at Fort Irwin, leaving him hobbling around in the sand and gravel for a month. When he returned to Fort Benning, Hernandez had to be put into another cast. (He is still in that cast now and hopes to start physical therapy when it comes off on March 26.)
    “We could not train,” Jenkins said. “Why were we even there?”

    Military experts point to the brigade’s readiness statistics, including “unit status reports” that carefully track personnel numbers and are sent up through the Army’s chain of command. “There are a number of factors used to establish whether a unit is mission-capable,” explained John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an independent organization that studies military and security issues. “One of them is the extent to which it is fully manned,” he said. Pike says he suspects the injured soldiers were camped out at Fort Irwin so that on paper, at least, “the unit would have a sufficient head count to be mission-capable.”

    Lawrence Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense for manpower during the Reagan administration and is now with the liberal Center for American Progress, says that the 3rd Brigade can show statistically that more troops trained in California simply because they were there. “Basically, they could say 90 percent went through Fort Irwin,” Korb said about the brigade.

    But injured soldiers from the brigade were not just shuttled to California; some were sent on to Iraq. Earlier this month Salon reported that on Feb. 15, shortly after returning from Fort Irwin to Fort Benning, 75 injured soldiers from the 3rd Brigade lined up for screenings at the troop medical clinic. Some of the soldiers there that day described cursory meetings with a division surgeon — meetings designed to downgrade their health problems, the soldiers said, so that they could be deployed to the war zone. Records for some of those soldiers show doctors had previously concluded that those soldiers could not wear body armor because of serious skeletal and other injuries.

    A military official knowledgeable about the training in California in January and the medical processing of the injured soldiers at Fort Benning in February told Salon that commanders were taking desperate actions to meet an accelerated deployment schedule dictated by President Bush’s so-called surge plan for securing Baghdad. “None of this would have happened if we had just slowed down a little bit,” the military official said. “A lot of people were under a lot of pressure at that time.”

    In an interview for the Salon report earlier this month, Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., the commander of the 3rd Brigade, did not dispute that injured troops were being deployed, but insisted they would be put in safe noncombat jobs once they were in Iraq.

    Some of those soldiers have since been deployed, while others fought orders to go to Iraq. Jenkins, with the bad back, even appealed his case to the Army surgeon general. Three days after he was quoted in the Salon report, Jenkins received official word through his chain of command that he would not be going to Iraq. Smith, the soldier with sleep apnea and narcolepsy, who was also quoted in the Salon report, also had his deployment orders dropped by the Army in mid-March.

    Jenkins said the disregard for soldiers’ health motivated him to speak out, despite his fears that as an active-duty soldier he could suffer reprisal from superiors. “I am a guy who has been in the Army for 21 years,” he said. “For me to speak about this — and risk everything — then there has got to be a problem. There has got to be an issue here.”

    Pete Geren, the acting Army secretary, told a Senate panel on March 14 that the Army would investigate the injured soldiers’ claims that their medical records were modified at Fort Benning in February in order for them to be sent to Iraq. House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate. The Army inspector general has also launched a probe. It remains unclear if any of those probes will also look into injured soldiers’ being sent to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in January.

    Experts say there is little doubt that military readiness has diminished with the strain of the Iraq war. But the Army says the problem is limited to units recuperating in the United States, and that by shifting around troops and equipment, brigades going to Iraq are in tip-top shape. “Today’s deployed soldiers are the best-trained, best-equipped and best-led we have ever sent into combat,” Army vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody told a House Armed Services Committee panel March 13. “However, we’ve done this — after five years of combat — we’ve done this at the expense of our non-deployed forces,” he admitted. “We do have shortages with the non-deployed forces.” The New York Times reported on March 20 that of the 20 Army brigades not currently deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, only one has enough equipment or soldiers to be sent quickly into combat.

    Indeed, there are indications that the problems go beyond Fort Benning. When Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote to the GAO asking for an investigation into the deployment of injured troops to Iraq, he added in that letter that “the committee has received a number of phone calls and letters from concerned service members and their families, including similar allegations that injured and wounded service members are being deployed into combat despite their injuries.”

    “My back was broken while I was in the military, I now have a ruptured/bulging discs in my lumbar spine,” one distressed soldier wrote to Salon in an e-mail earlier this month. She said she had been in the process of a medical review that would end her service in the Army. But upon her return from the National Training Center in California, she claimed, doctors at Fort Benning “changed my profile and made me deployable.” She pleaded for help in bringing attention to her case, after frantically seeking help through military and congressional channels.

    “If anyone has the ability to help … PLEASE do so,” she wrote. “I am heading to Kuwait tomorrow where I will then go to Baghdad with my unit.”


  3. Army deployed seriously injured troops
    Posted by: “Corey” cpmondello@yahoo.com cpmondello
    Mon Mar 26, 2007 3:56 am (PST)

    Army deployed seriously injured troops


    Soldiers on crutches and canes were sent to a main desert camp used for Iraq training. Military experts say the Army was pumping up manpower statistics to show a brigade was battle ready.

    By Mark Benjamin

    March 26, 2007

    WASHINGTON — Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.

    But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March.

    Hernandez says he was in no shape to train for war so soon after his injury. “I could not walk,” he told Salon in an interview. He said he was amazed when he learned he was being sent to California. “Did they not realize that I’m hurt and I needed this physical therapy?” he remembered thinking. “I was told by my doctor and my physical therapist that this was crazy.”

    Hernandez had served two tours in Iraq, where he helped maintain communications gear in the unit’s armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But he could not participate in war maneuvers conducted on a 1,000-square-mile mock battlefield located in the harsh Mojave Desert. Instead, when he got to California, he was led to a large tent where he would be housed. He was shocked by what he saw inside: There were dozens of other hurt soldiers. Some were on crutches, and others had arms in slings. Some had debilitating back injuries. And nearby was another tent, housing female soldiers with health issues ranging from injuries to pregnancy.

    Hernandez is one of a dozen soldiers who stayed for weeks in those tents who were interviewed for this report, some of whose medical records were also reviewed by Salon. All of the soldiers said they had no business being sent to Fort Irwin given their physical condition. In some cases, soldiers were sent there even though their injuries were so severe that doctors had previously recommended they should be considered for medical retirement from the Army.

    Military experts say they suspect that the deployment to Fort Irwin of injured soldiers was an effort to pump up manpower statistics used to show the readiness of Army units. With the military increasingly strained after four years of war, Army readiness has become a critical part of the debate over Iraq. Some congressional Democrats have considered plans to limit the White House’s ability to deploy more troops unless the Pentagon can certify that units headed into the fray are fully equipped and fully manned.

    Salon recently uncovered another troubling development in the Army’s efforts to shore up troop levels, reporting earlier this month that soldiers from the 3rd Brigade had serious health problems that the soldiers claimed were summarily downgraded by military doctors at Fort Benning in February, apparently so that the Army could send them to Iraq. Some of those soldiers were among the group sent to Fort Irwin to train in January.

    After arriving at Fort Irwin, many of the injured soldiers did not train. “They had all of us living in a big tent,” confirmed Spc. Lincoln Smith, who spent the month there along with Hernandez and others. Smith is an Army truck driver, but because of his health issues, which include sleep apnea (a breathing ailment) and narcolepsy, Smith is currently barred from driving military vehicles. “I couldn’t go out and do the training,” Smith said about his time in California. His records list his problems as “permanent” and recommend that he be considered for retirement from the Army because of his health.

    Another soldier with nearly 20 years in the Army was sent to Fort Irwin, ostensibly to prepare for deployment to Iraq, even though she suffers from back problems and has psychiatric issues. Doctors wrote “unable to deploy overseas” on her medical records.

    It is unclear exactly how many soldiers with health issues were sent to the California desert. None of the soldiers interviewed by Salon had done a head count, but all agreed that “dozens” would be a conservative estimate. An Army spokesman and public affairs officials for the 3rd Infantry Division did not return repeated calls and e-mails seeking further detail and an explanation of why injured troops were sent to Fort Irwin and housed in tents there during January.

    The soldiers who were at Fort Irwin described a pitiful scene. “You had people out there with crutches and canes,” said an Army captain who was being considered for medical retirement himself because of serious back injuries sustained in a Humvee accident during a previous combat tour in Iraq. “Soldiers that apparently had no business being there were there,” another soldier wrote to Salon in an e-mail. “Pregnant females were sent to the National Training Center rotation” with the knowledge of Army leaders, she said.

    One infantry sergeant with nearly 20 years in the Army who had already fought in Iraq broke his foot badly in a noncombat incident just before being sent to Fort Irwin. “I didn’t even get to put the cast on,” before going, he said with exasperation. He said doctors put something like an “open-toed soft shoe” on his foot and put him on a plane to California. “I’ve got the cast on now. I never even got a chance to see the [medical] specialist,” he claimed. The infantry sergeant said life in the desert was tough in his condition. “I was on Percocet. I couldn’t even concentrate. I hopped on a plane and hobbled around NTC on crutches,” he said. He added, “I saw people who were worse off than I am. I saw people with hurt backs and so on. I started to think, ‘Hey, I’m not so bad.'”


  4. More Veterans Calling The Streets Home
    Posted by: “Corey” cpmondello@yahoo.com cpmondello
    Tue Mar 27, 2007 8:39 am (PST)

    Look what the “far-left” is lying about again, trying to make people hate Bush…..



    More Veterans Calling The Streets Home

    An Estimated 200,000 U.S. War Veterans Are Homless



    March 25, 2007

    Hassam Elgoarany knows the price of war.

    He fought in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, where a sniper’s bullet took his best friend.

    “His head got blown off — I get nightmares about that,” said Elgoarany.

    The Muslim-American sailor drowned that pain in alcohol, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, but drinking only led to an early discharge.

    Back at home, he couldn’t find work. His wife took their baby boy and left. Robbery led to prison.

    When he got out, Hassam became one of many homeless veterans.

    “We have no inkling of the full scope of the problem,” said Roy Kearse, vice president of Samaritan Village, a state-funded homeless shelter for veterans with addictions.

    At Samaritan Village, Hassam found men who understood his downward spiral.

    “They’re returning home, they’re running into obstacles and problems and all of the mechanisms aren’t in place to get to them,” said Kearse.

    One in three homeless Americans is a veteran.

    On any given night in this country, an estimated 200,000 are living on the streets.

    Many served in Vietnam, but experts expect the number of Iraq veterans to swell in coming years.

    The Veterans Administration can provide beds to only 14,000 veterans, though it told CBS News its shelters aren’t filled to capacity and that it offers what it called “very good” services to homeless veterans.

    As President Bush orders more troops to Iraq, the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs wants more focus on those coming home.

    “The president did not mention the word ‘veteran’ in his State of the Union address,” said Senator Daniel Akaka, D-AK, chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

    Akaka has asked Congress to more than double the president’s request for funding next year — 4.8 billion dollars more to help not just the physically wounded but the emotionally scarred.

    “They train you to transfer from a civilian to a killing machine,” said Elgoarany. “When you get out they should have trained me to go back into being a civilian.”

    The Army says one in three Iraq veterans will return home with mental health issues. Sooner or later, caring for them will become another cost of war.


  5. Iraq war brain trauma victims turn to private care
    Posted by: “Corey” cpmondello@yahoo.com cpmondello
    Fri Apr 20, 2007 8:09 pm (PST)
    Iraq war brain trauma victims turn to private care

    By Kim Dixon | April 20, 2007


    CHICAGO (Reuters) – Sgt. Eric Edmundson arrived at the U.S. Army’s Walter Reed hospital in October 2005 with a severe head concussion, a victim of one of the many roadside bombs that are a part of daily life for soldiers in Iraq.

    Six months later, after intense physical rehab and an infection that made control of his limbs futile, his morale hit bottom. The Department of Veterans Affairs gave him the choice of a nursing home or returning home from a Richmond, Virginia facility, his family said.

    “We felt the VA had a ‘wait and see’ attitude, and our belief was that time was our enemy,” said Eric’s father Edward, who left his job at Conagra Foods in North Carolina to be his son’s full-time health advocate. “So we took him home.”

    Unsatisfied with the outcome, Eric and his family eventually found treatment at a private hospital, and began a slow path to recovery. But his story is unusual. Wounded vets are seldom treated at private hospitals, which say they offer expertise for severe brain injuries like Eric’s. The VA is resisting using their services, setting up a clash over care for some the war’s most seriously wounded veterans.

    Of the nearly 24,000 wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, about a third suffer from some degree of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, according to the General Accounting Office.

    The government has been on the defensive about veterans’ medical care after a probe found shoddy living conditions of recovering wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, considered the jewel in the military’s health care system.

    A newly-appointed Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors was formed by U.S. President George Bush in response. A major topic is whether the civilian sector could be used more in treating traumatic brain injury, one of the fastest growing injuries of the war.

    “That is a $64,000 question, and one that the Commission will be studying,” as it holds hearings in advance of drawing up recommendations for Bush, said Edward Eckenhoff, president of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington and a member of the commission.


    The VA has four hospitals to treat severe brain injuries, in Minneapolis, California, Florida and Virginia. Critics say the total of 48 hospital beds in the entire VA system devoted to the brain injuries is inadequate to meet demand.

    Barbara Sigford, the VA’s National Director for Physical Medicine and Rehab, said the agency’s expertise in spinal cord injuries and amputations, often intertwined with brain trauma, has been growing for the past 20 years.

    “This isn’t new for us by any means,” she said. “I would say that seldom is it in someone’s best interest to transfer them to another (civilian) program.”

    Sigford said there is no issue of overcrowding since the four VA trauma centers are running at about 80 percent capacity.

    For their part, private hospitals said they have been building expertise by treating tough brain injuries for decades, whether for construction accidents or car crash victims. The VA by contrast has been caring for mostly chronic illness in Vietnam and World War II veterans, they say.

    Jeremy Chwat, executive vice president of the advocacy group, the Wounded Warrior project, said the VA does a good job of caring for critical patients once they arrive, but that it could use assistance in the long road of rehabilitation.

    “We’ve been urging them to collaborate with the private sector. It’s about choice; we want veterans to choose the VA but not be captive by it,” he said.


    Traumatic brain injury, caused by a blow or jolt to the head, often results in severe disability, at times permanent brain damage. It is being called the signature injury of this war, as improved armor and medical advances save many more lives than in prior conflicts.

    “In Vietnam, if you got your leg blown off, you bled to death. Now if they can get you to a hospital, you are not going to die,” said Ronald Glasser, a Minneapolis specialist in nephrology and rheumatology, who has written several books on veteran care and was a physician during the Vietnam war.

    Symptoms include blurred vision, slurred speech, and physical paralysis, among many others, and it is often coupled with amputation and spinal cord problems.

    The VA estimates about 400 cases over four years were severe enough to require significant rehab, while some critics say the numbers are several times that.

    Often-times lack of physical symptoms may cause slow reporting of the injury, experts said.

    “The presence or absence of particularly a closed-head injury where there is not an obvious breach of the skull” is hard to diagnose, said Col. Joyce Grissom, medical director for the Defense Department’s Tricare health program.


    Private rehab hospitals are dealing with financial pressures, including a need to fill beds because of more stringent Medicare requirements, Chwat noted.

    “Obviously dollars and sense do come into play. To say there is not a financial motive involved would be naive, but unless the family can choose to go somewhere else, you can’t say they are choosing the VA.”

    The private sector officials say there have been encouraging signs recently. One of the private institutions, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, is where Eric Edmundson wound up two months ago after his father discovered he could use a civilian facility and have it paid by GI benefits.

    It was worth it, he says. About a month ago, Eric stood up by himself for the first time since 2005.

    “When we first got to Walter Reed. They took us together in a room and said he’d be a vegetable his whole life,” his father said.


  6. Provided By: The Associated Press
    Last Modified: 5/19/2007 11:30:08 AM

    SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — The president of Costa Rica says his country will no longer send police to the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, for training.

    President Oscar Arias said Friday he made the decision after meeting Wednesday with activists from the group School of the Americas Watch.

    In a statement, Arias said “We agreed that when the three police we have there end their training, we won’t send any more people.”

    School of the Americas Watch has campaigned for years against the school, arguing that its training of the region’s police and soldiers led to human rights abuses, especially during the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

    The School of the Americas moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984 and was replaced in 2001 by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, under the U.S. Defense Department.

    (Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.


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