May 17, 2010

Wyden, Schrader Ask DOD/GAO to Investigate “Institutionalized discrimination against Guard and Reserve Forces”

Evidence suggests that Fort Lewis had a policy of treating returning National Guard and Reservists as “second-class soldiers”

Washington, D.C. – Responding to concerns that National Guard soldiers are not receiving proper medical care and are being released from active duty too early, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader (D- Ore.) are calling for an investigation into the Army’s programs for providing medical treatment to National Guard troops prior to and after combat deployment Iraq. Their request to the Department of Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office follows evidence 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.  Included in the request is a Power Point presentation in which staff at the base referred to activity duty National Guard soldiers as “weekend warriors.”

“We can’t just chalk this up as the actions of one rogue office, rather my concern is that this is a symptom of a culture that views National Guard and reservists as second-class soldiers,” Wyden said. “While there may have been a time where being in the reserve or national guard required just a weekend a month, today these brave men and women are standing shoulder to shoulder with active duty soldiers in harm’s way.  They make many of the same sacrifices.  They dodge the same bullets and they deserve the same respect, which includes the benefits that they have earned.”

“Oregon’s National Guard troops have been in Iraq doing the same work and deserve the same respect and care as our active duty soldiers,” said Schrader. “I am committed to ensuring our Guardsmen receive the respect and care they have earned. I am outraged after hearing troubling reports about the disrespectful and inequitable treatment received by Oregon Guardsmen. I have asked the Secretary of the Army to personally ensure their proper care and treatment and I am demanding that all soldiers’ cases be reviewed. Some of our Guardsmen have already been released without receiving appropriate medical treatment. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”

In a letter to the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, Wyden and Schrader asked for several concerns to be investigated including reports that the Soldier Readiness Center is overturning medical decisions made by doctors in order to quickly “clear out” Oregon National Guard members and Reservists to make room for the pending return of the 2nd Infantry Division.  These decisions, which are made on an administrative rather than medical basis, can have a negative impact on a service member’s treatment.

Wyden and Schrader have also heard reports of service members being advised to seek care from the Veterans Administration or through TRICARE for wounds suffered during active duty as well as soldiers being denied second opinions afforded them through Army regulations and chronic care being automatically being sent home if they cannot be treated within 90 days.  Reports suggest that soldiers who have questioned these improper practices have been threatened with serious disciplinary action.

The full list of complaints is available in the letter sent to Secretary McHugh. Also linked below are the letters sent to Army Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell and Government Accountability Office Acting Comptroller General, Gene Dodaro requesting the investigation as well as the Power Point presentation referenced above.

Government Accountability Office Letter (.pdf-374 kb)

Department of Defense Letter (.pdf- 282 kb)

Letter to Secretary McHugh (.pdf- 985 kb)

Power Point Presentation (.pdf- 3.1 mb)