by Greg Barnes, Fayetteville Observer
Leaders of Fort Bragg’s Warrior Transition Battalion are wrongly accusing soldiers of faking illness or injury in an effort to keep them from getting full military benefits, some soldiers in the battalion said during a meeting Monday night.
One of those soldiers, Sgt. Daryl Shaw, said he will become homeless April 19 – when he is separated from the Army – because he is being accused of feigning his illnesses. That, he said, means he will receive only 60 percent of his medical retirement benefits – or between $900 and $1,200 a month to feed his family of six.
As it stands now, Shaw said, two of his children will have to live with friends from his church; the other two will stay with him and his wife in an old RV that has no electricity.
Shaw was among about two dozen soldiers or their family members who spoke during the meeting, which was called in an effort to strengthen the voice of battalion soldiers who feel wronged and betrayed.
Nine of the soldiers indicated they have been accused of malingering, a military term that means faking illness or injury in an effort to receive some form of benefit.
Sgt. Jody Lee Piercy, a battalion member who organized the meeting, believes an inspection of the battalion that began in February will find no wrongdoing.
“They are going to come out and say everything is all right,” Piercy said.
Findings of the inspection, ordered by Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, are due to be released to the public by April 18.
Helmick called for the inspection after hearing from Vickie Ray, a leader of a loose-knit group of advocates that has been trying to help soldiers in the battalion.
Ray, who lives in Texas and spoke during the meeting via computer link, said her organization of about 75 advocates is looking into getting legal representation for soldiers who need assistance.
Some of the soldiers who attended the meeting said they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other injuries that have become common since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. A study commissioned by the Army in 2008 found that as many as one in five soldiers could suffer from PTSD.
Some of the soldiers say their medical records are being improperly changed.
Shaw, who has 17 years in the military, said his original diagnosis of traumatic brain injury was changed to adjustment disorder. He said he also suffers from severe depression, anxiety and degenerative disks. He said he lost benefits because a doctor wrote on his medical evaluation board that he was feigning the illnesses.
“It’s just a shame that I see people get messed with all the time,” Shaw said. “It makes me furious.”
Soldier Robert Zimmer said he has been in the Warrior Transition Battalion for a year and a half. In that time, he said, “I have never seen such poor treatment.”
“I’ll tell you right now, I’ve had it. My family has suffered,” said Zimmer, who has six children.
Another soldier, Spc. Victor Lewis, accused the battalion of overmedicating the troops, saying they “make you feel like a junkie.” Overall, Lewis said during a break in the meeting, he is now being treated better by the battalion’s command.
The soldiers’ complaints were echoed by another group from the battalion that met the day Helmick ordered the inspection. Only a few of the soldiers attended both meetings.