This is a huge problem. Time and again, I hear from veterans and Active Duty that they feel they were or are overmedicated. When it leads to addiction the consequences can be dire, chronic substance abuse, poverty, homelessness and cycling in and out of the criminal justice system. And what of wounded troops who develop dependence on legal but controlled substance when the Army can not provide adequate treatment? They self-medicate.
If they get fail to pass a drug test, they get thrown out with a less than honorable discharge, they face an uphill battle accessing VA benefits, they lose their GI Bill education benefits. It is a recipe for disaster. The Army needs to take a serious look at this issue and the community needs to be ready to give these wounded warriors the care and assistance they need to overcome addiction and get back on their feet as successful civilians.
–Comments by Amy Fairweather, Swords’ Policy Director
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Medical officials estimate that 25% to 35% of about 10,000 ailing soldiers assigned to special wounded-care companies or battalions are addicted or dependent on drugs — particularly prescription narcotic pain relievers, according to an Army inspector general’s report made public Tuesday.
The report also found that these formations known as Warrior Transition Units — created after the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal in 2007 as a means of improving care for wounded troops — have become costly way stations where ill, injured or wounded soldiers wait more than a year to receive a medical discharge.
The newly appointed commander of the warrior units, Col. Darryl Williams, criticized the report’s assertions about drug addiction. He said the high rate of drug addiction and dependency cited in the report was based on estimates made by case managers and nurses working with troops and are not statisticaly valid.
“It kind of caught me by surprise,” says Williams, who has asked his inspectors to see of the numbers are accurate. He says most of the report’s recommendations for change will be in place by summer.
“”This report shows that there continue to be soldiers falling through the cracks of the Army’s efforts to care for their wounded, ill, and injured,” says Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committe who was briefed on the report because of her work to improve health care for troops. “It illustrates that soldiers are waiting too long for routine examinations, that many (warrior units) have not been provided the uniform guidance they need, that access to mental health professionals is too often scarce and that too many soldiers are abusing drugs as they struggle to recover both mentally and physically.”
Most case managers and nurses interviewed by investigators said 25% to 35% of soldiers in warrior units “are over-medicated, abuse prescriptions and have access to illegal drugs.”
They said most soldiers arrive in the units with narcotics provided by battlefield doctors or military bases. They also said a few soldiers under their care are buying narcotics out of pocket and may be mixing legal and illegal drugs.
About three out of four soldiers in the warrior units either leave the Army or active duty.
After nine years of war, the Army medical-discharge process has become a bureaucratic backlog where nearly 7,800 soldiers from across the Army wait for their cases to be reviewed. That’s nearly a 50% increase since 2007, according to the investigation.
The “process is complex, disjointed and hard to understand,” the report says.
For the high-care warrior units, it means many of their soldiers wait more than a year for a medical release from the Army, the report says.
“Medical resources (are) tied up for soldiers who will not be returning to the fight,” investigators say.
Murray says “too often soldiers are finding themselves stuck (in warrior units). This is unacceptable.”
The warrior units were created across the Army in June 2007 in response to media reports that the processing of wounded and ill soldiers at Walter Reed was poorly managed. The warrior units — where many ill, injured or wounded troops are temporarily assigned — have nurses, case managers and squad leaders to guide each soldier through the health system.
Only about 10% of the soldiers in these units are wounded in combat. The rest are there for injuries, illness or mental health issues.
The report says most people “generally” feel the units are the best place in the Army to heal up.
Other issues raised in the report:
• The Army does not have the resources to “appropriately treat drug dependence or abusers.”
• The Army doesn’t have enough doctors to review requests for medical discharges.
• A growing number soldiers returning to duty from the warrior units may have unresolved medical problems — such as mental health or brain injury issues — from past deployments.
Source: USA TODAY, January 26, 2011, by Gregg Zoroya