October 29, 2003

Sick soldiers wait for treatment

UPI: "I don't mind serving my country," Talley said. "I just hate what they are doing to me now." Talley has served for 30 years. He was awarded two Purple Hearts in Vietnam.

http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20031029-020609-6750r

Sick soldiers wait for treatment
By Mark Benjamin
UPI Investigations Editor
Published 10/29/2003 3:58 PM
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FORT KNOX, Ky., Oct. 29 (UPI) -- More than 400 sick
and injured soldiers, including some who served in
Operation Iraqi Freedom, are stuck at Fort Knox,
waiting weeks and sometimes months for medical
treatment, a score of soldiers said in interviews.

The delays appear to have demolished morale -- many
said they had lost faith in the Army and would not
serve again -- and could jeopardize some soldiers'
health, the soldiers said.

The Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers are in
what the Army calls "medical hold," like roughly 600
soldiers under similar circumstances waiting for
doctors at Fort Stewart, Ga.

The apparent lack of care at both locations raises the
specter that Reserve and Guard soldiers, including
many who returned from Iraq, could be languishing at
locations across the country, according to Senate
investigators.

Representatives from the office of Sen. Kit Bond,
R-Mo., were at Fort Knox Wednesday looking into
conditions at the post.

Following reports from Fort Stewart, Senate
investigators said that the medical system at that
post was overwhelmed and they were looking into
whether the situation was Army-wide.

Army officials at the Pentagon said they are
investigating that possibility. "We are absolutely
taking a look at this across the Army and not just at
Fort Stewart," Army spokesman Joe Burlas said
Wednesday.

"I joined to serve my country," said Cpl. Waymond
Boyd, 34. He served in Iraq with the National Guard's
1175 Transportation Company. He has been in medical
hold since the end of July.

"It doesn't make any sense to go over there and risk
your life and come back to this," Boyd said. "It ain't
fair and it ain't right. I used to be patriotic." He
has served the military for 15 years.

Boyd's knee and wrist injuries were severe enough that
he was evacuated to Germany at the end of July and
then sent to Fort Knox. His medical records show
doctor appointments around four weeks apart. He said
it took him almost two months to get a cast for his
wrist, which is so weak he can't lift 5 pounds or play
with his two children. He is taking painkilling drugs
and walks with a cane with some difficulty.

Many soldiers at Fort Knox said their injuries and
illnesses occurred in Iraq. Some said the rigors of
war exacerbated health problems that probably should
have prevented them from going in the first place.

Boyd's X-rays appear to show the damage to his wrist
but also bone spurs in his feet that are noted in his
medical record before being deployed, but the records
say "no health problems noted" before he left.

"I don't think I was medically fit to go. But they
said 'go.' That is my job," Boyd said.

Fort Knox Public Affairs Officer Connie Shaffery said,
"Taking care of patients is our priority." Soldiers
see specialists within 28 days, Shaffery said and Fort
Knox officials hope to cut that time lag.

"I think that we would like for all the soldiers to
get care as soon as possible," Shaffery said.

Shaffery said of the 422 soldiers on medical hold at
Fort Knox, 369 did not deploy to Operation Iraqi
Freedom because of their illnesses. Around two-thirds
of the soldiers at Fort Stewart did serve in Operation
Iraqi Freedom.

Soldiers at Fort Knox describe strange clusters of
heart problems and breathing problems, as did soldiers
at Fort Stewart and other locations.

Command Sgt. Major Glen Talley, 57, is in the hospital
at Fort Knox for heart problems, clotting blood and
Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder. All of the
problems became apparent after he went to war in
April, he says. He is a reservist.

Talley said he was moved to Fort Knox on Oct. 16 and
had not seen a doctor yet, only a physician's
assistant. His next appointment with an
endocrinologist was scheduled for Dec. 30.

"I don't mind serving my country," Talley said. "I
just hate what they are doing to me now." Talley has
served for 30 years. He was awarded two Purple Hearts
in Vietnam.

Sgt. Buena Montgomery has breathing problems since
serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She said she has
been able to get to doctors but worries about many
others who have not.

"The Army did not prepare for the proper medical care
for the soldiers that they knew were going to come
back from this war," Montgomery said. "Now the Army
needs to step up to the plate and fix this problem."

In nearly two dozen interviews conducted over three
days, soldiers also described substandard living
conditions -- though they said conditions had improved
recently.

A UPI photographer working on this story without first
having cleared his presence with base public affairs
officials was detained for several hours for
questioning Tuesday and then released. He was told he
would need an Army escort for any further visits to
the base. He returned to the base accompanied by an
Army escort on Wednesday.

This reporter also was admonished that he had to be
accompanied by an Army public affairs escort when on
base. The interviews had been conducted without the
presence of an escort.

After returning from Iraq, some soldiers spent about
eight weeks in Spartan, dilapidated World War II-era
barracks with leaking roofs, animal infestations and
no air conditioning in the Kentucky heat.

"I arrived here and was placed in the World War II
barracks," one soldier wrote in an internal Fort Knox
survey of the conditions. "On the 28th of August we
moved out. On 30 Aug. the roof collapsed. Had we not
moved, someone would be dead," that soldier wrote.

Shaffery said all of the soldiers have moved out of
those barracks. "As soon as we were able to, we moved
them out," Shaffery said. The barracks now stand empty
and have been condemned.

Also like Fort Stewart, soldiers at Fort Knox claimed
they are getting substandard treatment because they
are in the National Guard or Army Reserve as opposed
to regular Army. The Army has denied any discrepancies
in treatment or housing.

"We have provided, are providing, and will continue to
provide our soldiers -- active and Reserve component
-- the best health care available," Army spokesman
Maj. Steve Stover said Oct. 20. He said Army policy
provides health care priority based on a "most
critically ill" basis, without differentiation between
active and our Reserve soldiers.

"Medical hold issues are not new and the Army has been
working diligently to address them across the Army,"
Stover said.

"They are treating us like second-class citizens,"
said Spc. Brian Smith, who served in Operation Iraqi
Freedom until Aug. 16 and said he is having trouble
seeing doctors at Fort Knox. The Army evacuated him
through Germany for stomach problems, among other
things. "My brother wants to get in (the military). I
am now discouraging him from doing it," Smith said.

"I have never been so disrespected in my military
career," said Lt. Jullian Goodrum, who has been in the
Army Reserve for 16 years. His health problems do not
appear to be severe -- injured wrists -- but he said
the medical situation at Fort Knox is bad. He said he
waited a month for therapy. "I have never been so
treated like dirt."

Copyright 2001-2003 United Press International

Posted by richard at October 29, 2003 07:21 AM