October 17, 2003

Sick, wounded U.S. troops held in squalor

UPI: "Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors."

http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20031017-024617-1418r

Sick, wounded U.S. troops held in squalor
By Mark Benjamin
UPI Investigations Editor
Published 10/17/2003 3:36 PM
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FORT STEWART, Ga., Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Hundreds of sick
and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in
the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks
here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see
doctors.

The National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers' living
conditions are so substandard, and the medical care so
poor, that many of them believe the Army is trying
push them out with reduced benefits for their
ailments. One document shown to UPI states that no
more doctor appointments are available from Oct. 14
through Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.

"I have loved the Army. I have served the Army
faithfully and I have done everything the Army has
asked me to do," said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Buckels, a
truck master with the 296th Transportation Company.
Buckels served in the Army Reserves for 27 years,
including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Gulf
War. "Now my whole idea about the U.S. Army has
changed. I am treated like a third-class citizen."

Since getting back from Iraq in May, Buckels, 52, has
been trying to get doctors to find out why he has
intense pain in the side of his abdomen since doubling
over in pain there.

After waiting since May for a diagnosis, Buckels has
accepted 20 percent of his benefits for bad knees and
is going home to his family in Mississippi. "They have
not found out what my side is doing yet, but they are
still trying," Buckels said.

One month after President Bush greeted soldiers at
Fort Stewart -- home of the famed Third Infantry
Division -- as heroes on their return from Iraq,
approximately 600 sick or injured members of the Army
Reserves and National Guard are warehoused in rows of
spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy
field, waiting for doctors to treat their wounds or
illnesses.

The Reserve and National Guard soldiers are on what
the Army calls "medical hold," while the Army decides
how sick or disabled they are and what benefits -- if
any -- they should get as a result.

Some of the soldiers said they have waited six hours a
day for an appointment without seeing a doctor. Others
described waiting weeks or months without getting a
diagnosis or proper treatment.

The soldiers said professional active duty personnel
are getting better treatment while troops who serve in
the National Guard or Army Reserve are left to wallow
in medical hold.

"It is not an Army of One. It is the Army of two --
Army and Reserves," said one soldier who served in
Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which she developed a
serious heart condition and strange skin ailment.

A half-dozen calls by UPI seeking comment from Fort
Stewart public affairs officials and U.S. Forces
Command in Atlanta were not returned.

Soldiers here estimate that nearly 40 percent of the
personnel now in medical hold were deployed to Iraq.
Of those who went, many described clusters of strange
ailments, like heart and lung problems, among
previously healthy troops. They said the Army has
tried to refuse them benefits, claiming the injuries
and illnesses were due to a "pre-existing condition,"
prior to military service.

Most soldiers in medical hold at Fort Stewart stay in
rows of rectangular, gray, single-story cinder block
barracks without bathrooms or air conditioning. They
are dark and sweltering in the southern Georgia heat
and humidity. Around 60 soldiers cram in the bunk beds
in each barrack.

Soldiers make their way by walking or using crutches
through the sandy dirt to a communal bathroom, where
they have propped office partitions between otherwise
open toilets for privacy. A row of leaky sinks sits on
an opposite wall. The latrine smells of urine and is
full of bugs, because many windows have no screens.
Showering is in a communal, cinder block room.
Soldiers say they have to buy their own toilet paper.

They said the conditions are fine for training, but
not for sick people.

"I think it is disgusting," said one Army Reserve
member who went to Iraq and asked that his name not be
used.

That soldier said that after being deployed in March
he suffered a sudden onset of neurological symptoms in
Baghdad that has gotten steadily worse. He shakes
uncontrollably.

He said the Army has told him he has Parkinson's
Disease and it was a pre-existing condition, but he
thinks it was something in the anthrax shots the Army
gave him.

"They say I have Parkinson's, but it is developing too
rapidly," he said. "I did not have a problem until I
got those shots."

First Sgt. Gerry Mosley crossed into Iraq from Kuwait
on March 19 with the 296th Transportation Company,
hauling fuel while under fire from the Iraqis as they
traveled north alongside combat vehicles. Mosley said
he was healthy before the war; he could run two miles
in 17 minutes at 48 years old.

But he developed a series of symptoms: lung problems
and shortness of breath; vertigo; migraines; and
tinnitus. He also thinks the anthrax vaccine may have
hurt him. Mosley also has a torn shoulder from an
injury there.

Mosley says he has never been depressed before, but
found himself looking at shotguns recently and thought
about suicide.

Mosley is paying $300 a month to get better housing
than the cinder block barracks. He has a notice from
the base that appears to show that no more doctor
appointments are available for reservists from Oct. 14
until Nov. 11. He said he has never been treated like
this in his 30 years in the Army Reserves.

"Now, I would not go back to war for the Army," Mosley
said.

Many soldiers in the hot barracks said regular Army
soldiers get to see doctors, while National Guard and
Army Reserve troops wait.

"The active duty guys that are coming in, they get
treated first and they put us on hold," said another
soldier who returned from Iraq six weeks ago with a
serious back injury. He has gotten to see a doctor
only two times since he got back, he said.

Another Army Reservist with the 149th Infantry
Battalion said he has had real trouble seeing doctors
about his crushed foot he suffered in Iraq. "There are
not enough doctors. They are overcrowded and they
can't perform the surgeries that have to be done,"
that soldier said. "Look at these mattresses. It hurts
just to sit on them," he said, gesturing to the bunks.
"There are people here who got back in April but did
not get their surgeries until July. It is putting a
lot on these families."

The Pentagon is reportedly drawing up plans to call up
more reserves.

In an Oct. 9 speech to National Guard and reserve
troops in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bush said the
soldiers had become part of the backbone of the
military.

"Citizen-soldiers are serving in every front on the
war on terror," Bush said. "And you're making your
state and your country proud."

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Mark Benjamin can be contacted at mbenjamin@upi.com


Copyright 2001-2003 United Press International

Posted by richard at October 17, 2003 09:09 PM