Monday, March 12, 2007

Surge Scandal - Army Deploying Medically Unfit Troops

Cross-posted at Raising Kaine

Mark Benjamin of reports that the Army is deploying troops to Iraq who have well-documented unfitness for duty (read here).

Is it any surprise that commanders are feeling the pressure to activate as many of their troops as possible to meet the demands placed on them by this surge? Benjamin reports that

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.
Soldiers reported being ordered to attend a meeting on February 15th at which
Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade [met with] with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.
Eight soldiers described being summoned to a perfunctory meeting with "Lt. Col. George Appenzeller, who had arrived from Fort Stewart, Ga., and Capt. Aaron K. Starbuck, brigade surgeon at Fort Benning."
In direct contradiction to the account given by the soldiers, Appenzeller said physical examinations were conducted and that he had a robust medical team there working with him, which is how they managed to complete 75 reviews in one day.
The article does not detail who besides Appenzeller and Starbuck were on this "robust medical team", but it is hard to imagine that a thorough review could have been done in less than a half hour at the least. At the rate of two soldiers per half hour for, say, a ten hour day, that still makes only twenty doable in one full day, doesn't it? Also, there's no information about whether this "robust medical team" contained more than one surgeon.
it is hard to imagine there is not some desperation behind the decision to deploy some of the sick soldiers. Master Sgt. Jenkins, 42, has a degenerative spine problem and a long scar down the back of his neck where three of his vertebrae were fused during surgery. He takes a cornucopia of potent pain pills. His medical records say he is "at significantly increased risk of re-injury during deployment where he will be wearing Kevlar, body armor and traveling through rough terrain." Late last year, those medical records show, a doctor recommended that Jenkins be referred to an Army board that handles retirements when injuries are permanent and severe.

A copy of Jenkins' profile written after that Feb. 15 meeting and signed by Capt. Starbuck, the brigade surgeon, shows a healthier soldier than the profile of Jenkins written by another doctor just late last year, though Jenkins says his condition is unchanged. Other soldiers' documents show the same pattern.

One female soldier with psychiatric issues and a spine problem has been in the Army for nearly 20 years. "My [health] is deteriorating," she said ... "My spine is separating. I can't carry gear." Her medical records include the note "unable to deploy overseas." Her status was also reviewed on Feb. 15. And she has been ordered to Iraq this week.

Other medically unfit soldiers selected to continue our mission of spreading democracy to Iraq include a captain whose back was "corkscrewed" in a Humvee accident there last year, and a female soldier who had part of her coccyx removed after an accident years ago and suffers from
degenerative disk disease and has two ruptured disks and a bulging disk in her back.
This soldier is now already in Iraq. Another soldier, whose military occupation is truck driver, developed sleep apnea after his return from his last deployment. As a result of his condition he now has narcolepsy and actually fell asleep during his interview for Salon. Nevertheless, he has also been ordered to Iraq, apparently to drive trucks.

These medically unfit soldiers are not only at extremely high risk for injury or death, but pose enormous risk to their healthier comrades. A medically unfit soldier is a burden to his or her unit. This situation should be investigated and the medically unfit personnel already sent overseas called back home before they or their units suffer any losses as a result of their conditions and appropriate sanctions handed out to those who have put them in this position.

UPDATE!! Have just discovered a diary on this very subject at dKos and posted by paddykraska. Visit paddy's diary here and check out her recommendations for ways to draw the attention of elected representatives to this issue. Everyone should be outraged.


Paddy said...

Thanks for following up on this!! Every voice makes a difference.
And, fwiw, I'm a she.

Catzmaw said...

Oops, sorry for the mistake. I'll change it accordingly.

acwo said...

Interesting blog, I like it :)
keep it up!

Anonymous said...

This medical scandal is a real shame for our country.

Melinda Robinson

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