Washington, D.C. – Responding to concerns raised over the last year by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representative Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), the United States Army has announced changes designed to improve the treatment of National Guard and Reserve troops returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The changes announced in documents provided to Wyden’s office include ensuring each soldier receives proper medical care, improving communication about entitlements and benefits and greater access to medical care following demobilization. The changes also include keeping Guard and Reserve leaders with their units at demobilization stations until each soldier receives the care and resources they have earned
“For more than a year now we have been concerned that the Army was treating National Guard and Reserve troops differently by sending them home too quickly following demobilization and not informing them or providing them with the medical care they needed and deserved following a combat deployment,” Wyden said. “The Department of Defense has acknowledged that the treatment of these troops was not what it should be. Now the military has taken steps to improve the situation. They deserve a great deal of credit for recognizing these problems and taking steps to fix them.”
"Our National Guard and Reserve men and women have served this nation honorably and with distinction," said Schrader. "They deserve, and are frankly entitled to, the same consideration during and after demobilization as Active Component service members. Being provided misinformation two hundred miles from the nearest Military Treatment Facility is not acceptable."
Under the new policies, the demobilization process for Guard and Reserve soldiers will be extended to up to 14 days rather than the previous five to seven day limit. This change addresses complaints that troops were being rushed off active duty too quickly and before their medical issues were properly identified and resolved. Another change includes making it easier to admit Guard and Reserve troops into the Warrior Transition Unit for medical treatment.
In addition, during a meeting this week with Wyden, General Peter W. Chiarelli, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, promised that in six months he would ask the Inspector General to investigate compliance with the new policies.
In May of last year, Wyden and Schrader raised concerns that Joint Base Lewis-McChord had instituted a dual-track process for handling the medical needs that treated active duty soldiers differently from National Guard and reservists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The two members of Congress also said that Guard and Reserve troops were looked upon differently by members of the regular Army, pointing out a PowerPoint presentation in which staff at the base referred to National Guard soldiers as “weekend warriors.”
“While I am encouraged that the Military has taken the concerns about the treatment of Guard and Reserve troops seriously, I still believe that the Army needs to address head-on the issue of whether Guard and Reserve troops who have served side by side with members of the regular Army are given the same respect,” Wyden said. “I have yet to hear whether the Army even considers this cultural issue a problem, much less done something about it.”
“Inter-service rivalry cannot be tolerated when it contributes to disparity in medical care for our Guard and Reserve soldiers," Schrader said, " I am pleased that the Army has addressed some of the issues, but the duty of Congress is oversight, and I will be closely monitoring their progress as Oregon soldiers return from theater."
Wyden and Schrader said they and their staffs will continue to work with the Army to ensure that soldiers receive the care they deserve. Future collaboration will include observing the new process a few times in action when more Oregon soldiers return home late summer and early fall.
Key elements within the Department of the Army Demobilization Execution Order.
- Clearly defines the roles and responsibilities for standardizing the demobilization process across all seven mobilization stations.
- Refines a demobilization process that identifies and then implements a tailored path of care for each individual soldier based on medical, behavioral health, and dental health care screenings. This unique care pathway for each Soldier from the demobilization site to home station helps ensure that each Soldier receives access to entitlements and continuity of care.
- Establishes a Soldier Validation Board consisting of the returning unit chain of command, a First Army senior leader, installation support agencies, and State leadership that ensures each soldier receives the care, benefits, and entitlements commensurate with service to the Nation prior to returning all home.
- Mandates standardized briefings during demobilization to ensure soldiers are aware of and receive the most thorough and up to date information regarding their entitlements and benefits.
- Improves processes for soldiers to access care after they depart the demobilization station.
- Establishes a Periodic Health Assessment (PHA) inside the demobilization process to improve Soldier medical readiness.