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Location: St. Paul, Minnesota, United States

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Even When They Do Their Jobs...

...they can’t win in this climate of intimidation.

This will be reversed, which almost always happens, but one must wonder how truly stupid the military must be to wield this wimpy hammer at all. The story about poor medical treatment of returning reservists and guardspeople is included below. It’s newspapering as it should be done.

Moreover, the question must be asked: if we’re all supposed to support our troops – why isn’t the government and military practicing what it preaches? The dehumanization of the poor, powerless pawns in the global chess game that is now U.S. foreign policy is the dirty little secret behind all the patriotic bullcrap naïve citizens are being fed daily by administration hawks and their PR flaks – the mainstream media – who would rather focus on photogenic strategies and tactics and ignore the human costs – on all sides of the war divide. This is how criminal a nation can become – to its own people.

Speaking of rooks.

Andy Driscoll
--

Fort Carson halts access for The Post

The base is refusing to give the paper information because of a Sunday front-page article on military medical holds. (Sunday article reprinted below)

http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~53~2585336,00.html#

By Eileen Kelley
Special to The Denver Post

Thursday, December 09, 2004 -

 
Fort Carson -The Army is denying The Denver Post access to Fort Carson and to information on military activities in the wake of a Sunday article in The Post on military medical holds.

 "We have temporarily suspended relations with The Denver Post as a direct result of Fort Carson not being given fair and balanced treatment in a story that appeared on Dec. 5, 2004," Lt. Col. David Johnson, the chief public affairs officer at the base, said Wednesday evening.

 The front-page article examined claims from mentally and physically ill National Guard and Army Reserve members who say they are being denied access to quality care and are being shoved out of the military without disability pay. Congress has been scrutinizing medical holds at bases across the country.

 "All of those involved with the med-hold piece which ran yesterday are extremely disappointed with the outcome," Kim Tisor, a Fort Carson public affairs officer, wrote in a letter to reporters Monday. "Perhaps we would have been better off not commenting - it certainly would have saved us a lot of time."

 Denver Post Editor Greg Moore said the base's public affairs staff was misguided in their actions.

 "They are singling us out simply because they didn't like our story," he said. "Other newspapers and media organizations have reported on the issue. Our story was thorough, and balanced the concerns of soldiers with substantial response from the military, including from some officers who acknowledged problems with the program.

 "It's our job to investigate issues like these and explain them to our readers, many of whom have family members serving in the military," Moore added. "We hope Fort Carson officials reconsider their ban of The Denver Post. If they don't, we will appeal to senior military officers at Fort Carson and in Washington, and through any other legal or congressional channels that are available to us."

 Any commander has the authority to control access to his installation or unit, but a specific news organization can be banned from a base only in accordance with an Army regulation that provides for due process, according to a senior Army official who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

 Johnson said the paper has been dropped from an e-mail list that distributes invitations to cover events and official statements.

 A Post reporter was told Tuesday she could not attend a formal deployment ceremony Wednesday even though other media members were invited.

 Johnson said the lack of access is not an official ban, but he later said that all Denver Post reporters and editors were - for the time being - no longer welcome at Fort Carson.

 Also last week, The Denver Post obtained an injunction to stop an investigative hearing that had been closed to the public for three Fort Carson soldiers charged with murdering an Iraqi general.



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http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~6439~2577093,00.html#>

Soldiers in medical limbo
Members of Reserve, Guard stuck in "holdover"
By Marsha Austin and Eileen Kelley
Denver Post Staff Writers

Sunday, December 05, 2004 -

 
Army Pvt. Jessica Rich was medically evacuated from Iraq in January. Eleven months and two misdiagnoses later, she is still waiting to see a specialist who can treat the autoimmune disease hardening her muscles and attacking her joints.

 Sgt. Michael Lemke spent two months after returning from combat dealing with flashbacks of a mass grave at Abu Ghraib prison and dodging phantom sniper fire. Finally, an Army nurse asked him if he might like to see a psychologist.

 Sgt. Irene Cornett spent a year in treatment for a wrist injury that occurred when a tent rope snapped. After a bad infection, doctors fused the bone, leaving her with 10 percent movement and eligible for disability pay, according to her hand surgeon. But the officer who summarized Cornett's medical records to determine her eligibility for disability payments reported she had twice as much movement, ultimately disqualifying her from a lifetime pension.

 All three, along with more than 13,000 others nationwide, have spent time in a "medical holdover" unit, a system now under congressional scrutiny and the source of seemingly endless frustration to members of the Army Reserve and National Guard.

 Critics inside and outside the Army say "med hold" units are choked with reservists who should have been home much sooner with family or friends. Instead, they find themselves in a system that some Army officials acknowledge was unprepared to handle the thousands of soldiers wounded in combat overseas or injured while training or serving on U.S. military bases.

 Shortly after the March 2003 Iraq invasion, when casualties started returning to the U.S., "the system was immediately overloaded," said Col. Lynn Denooyer, an Army Reserve nurse stationed at Fort Carson between March 2003 and August 2004.

 Soldiers, veterans' advocates and some lawmakers say that despite recent efforts to beef up medical staffing and speed delivery of care, the Army still hasn't caught up, particularly when it comes to caring for National Guard and Reserve soldiers.

 "Clearly, the unprecedented number of guardsmen and reservists mobilized in the war on terrorism has severely taxed the system and its resources," said U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.

Bias sensed by some

 The med-hold program was set up in March 2003 to help injured soldiers keep full-time pay while under review.

 Guard and Reserve soldiers can spend months in med-hold units, unable to return to their civilian lives, while the military decides whether they are fit to serve or must be discharged - and if so, how much pay they should receive.

 Since November 2003, 13,542 men and women who volunteered to serve as Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers have been injured on military bases or returned wounded from combat in Iraq and been assigned to med-hold units. Currently, 4,326 soldiers are in the system, according to the Army surgeon general's office.

 Past and present members of Fort Carson Army Base's medical-hold company, including Rich, Lemke and Cornett, say they've waited weeks, even months, for medical appointments, surgery or other treatments. Soldiers say military doctors routinely deny them consultations with specialists while prescribing dangerously large quantities of sleep aids and painkillers that only mask underlying medical issues.

 Some argue that the delay and substandard care are a symptom of an Army that cares more for "active" or "regular" soldiers than for the Guard or Reserve.

 "I'm National Guard - that's what happened," said now-discharged and unemployed Sgt. Virgil Travecek, 45, who waited about a year on medical hold for treatment of an injured back at Fort Carson before he was finally given a lump-sum check and sent home to South Dakota.

 "They screw you around," he said. "If you were National Guard, Reserve, you were not really a soldier. If you were regular Army, you were the best."

 The Army acknowledges that there remains a shortage of specialty doctors but insists that no preference in medical care is shown to active Army soldiers over those from the Guard and Reserve.

 "Guard and Reserve are being treated differently than regular soldiers. They're being treated better," said Col. Brian Lein, commander of Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson. "We don't treat them as second-class citizens. We take great care of all our soldiers here."

 Beyond the frustration of being cooped up in a barracks, with untreated mental and physical ailments, reservists and guardsmen say the system frustrates their efforts to be medically retired, a discharge that requires an Army judgment of 30 percent disability and comes with a lifetime monthly pension and access to military perks such as commissary stores.

 Lemke described the whole process as a "pressure cooker" designed to frustrate soldiers to the point where they stop fighting for medical care and retirement the Army can't afford.

 He and others feel a deep sense of betrayal. These volunteer soldiers - waitresses, Wal-Mart managers, cooks and corrections officers - never expected to go to war.

 Once they did, they expected to be taken care of when they came home to face broken marriages, unsalvageable careers, wasted minds and crippled bodies.

 "Those who served are being kicked to the curb with little or nothing, and many of them will never fully regain their health," said Lemke. "I still find it totally incomprehensible that people wearing the same uniform I had on while fighting a war are the ones treating medical patients this way.

 "It makes me wonder, past all the flag-waving, what exactly it was I fought for."

"Cultural change"

 Col. Michael Deaton, Army deputy assistant surgeon general for force projection, acknowledged that the Army is having a difficult time getting injured soldiers to specific specialists such as orthopedic surgeons, neurologists and rheumatologists, mainly because of the remote locations of its bases.

 "Are we stretched thin in areas? Absolutely," he said. "Are we providing safe and adequate care? I think we are."

 In November, congressional staffers visited Fort Carson to hear soldiers' concerns. The following week, the Army surgeon general's office dispatched a team of officers who held a similar series of meetings with many of the then-75 soldiers in medical hold at the base.

 The Army has made "significant strides" toward improving care for soldiers assigned to med-hold units, Deaton said. It has hired 762 new staffers to exclusively support medical-hold units and is expanding programs that will allow injured and ill Guard and Reserve soldiers to get care in their hometowns, Deaton said.

 "We are making that cultural change that says we are here to take care of you, not to throw you out," he said.

 For soldiers who are injured or fall ill in Iraq or on their home bases, the system leading to medical hold begins with a diagnosis in the field.

 Upon arrival at Fort Carson, they are initially screened. If they are not declared fit for duty within 60 days, they have the option of mustering out of active duty and going home to receive medical care through short-term reserve benefits.

"Part-time care"

 Those who choose to seek more extensive care or disability pay enter medical hold. They are given treatment on the base, while boards of soldiers and doctors at Fort Carson and Fort Lewis, Wash., determine how severe their disabilities are, and whether they are eligible for lifelong payments.

 That process can take more than a year, though Army statistics show the average time spent in medical hold is 155 days.

 Soldiers at Fort Carson say they don't see doctors as often as they need to. Additionally, they complain that reservists and members of the National Guard get less medical care and are less likely to receive a full medical retirement than their counterparts in the "active Army."

 Reserve Sgt. Shelly Hays, 31, injured her back at Fort Carson last year while moving a 700-pound pump.

 She said the doctor who saw her made it clear she would receive what she described as "part-time care for part-time soldiers."

 "He said, 'I'm sick and tired of all you reservists coming in here and taking up all the (appointments) for the regular soldiers,"' she said.

 Army statistics show that reservists and members of the National Guard are less likely than active Army soldiers to receive full medical retirements.

 From Oct. 1, 2003, through Sept. 30, 26 percent of injured active Army soldiers received a disability rating that resulted in a temporary or permanent retirement with all benefits.

 Only 16 percent of Reserve or National Guard soldiers received a similar rating.

 The Army says the discrepancy is partly explained by the different roles most reservists play in support compared to the large number of active Army soldiers in combat.

 Dr. Gene Bolles, a Longmont neurosurgeon, spent two years as chief of neurosurgery for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. He said he felt the Army's motivation in treating all soldiers was monetary, not medical.

 He has seen herniated discs go untreated, causing severe neurological problems - loss of bladder control, loss of sexual function, atrophied extremities.

 In his view, the Army needs to invest more in the care of soldiers, or Americans will face long-term costs for Veterans Affairs hospitalizations.

 "This is one of the so-called 'hidden costs' of the war," Bolles said. "We are going to end up with a lot of young people with chronic pain."

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