VCS Executive Director Patrick Bellon Quoted
From the Fayetteville Observer
by Greg Barnes,Staff Writer
An inspection of Fort Bragg’s battalion for wounded soldiers found that the post needs to do a better job of selecting and training the battalion’s staff leaders, Brig. Gen. Michael X. Garrett said Tuesday.
While the inspection confirms that the Warrior Transition Battalion is doing many things right, Fort Bragg will make improvements to better serve its nearly 500 physically and mentally wounded soldiers, said Garrett, chief of staff of the 18th Airborne Corps.
Garrett made his remarks while releasing findings by Fort Bragg’s inspector general at a news conference on post. Fort Bragg did not release the report, saying it is the property of the Department of the Army’s Inspector General’s Office and can be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Included in the recommendations, Garrett said, is for Fort Bragg to begin searching the entire Army to find the best soldiers to lead the battalion’s staff. Fort Bragg now limits its search to soldiers on post.
Garrett said although the leadership staff meets regulatory training requirements, a new “resilience” training program being developed will focus on the wounded soldiers’ physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual strengths.
Garrett said Fort Bragg also will recommend to the Department of the Army that the battalion’s senior leadership be nominated, similar to how the Army selects battalion commanders and command sergeants major.
Patrick Bellon, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense in Washington, D.C., was unimpressed with the findings or the recommendations.
“If I had to sum it up succinctly,” Bellon wrote in an email, “this report basically says nothing to see folks … move along.”
Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, ordered the inspection Feb. 14, after hearing complaints from spouses of soldiers in the battalion and from advocates of the soldiers.
Since then, The Fayetteville Observer has heard from more than 40 past and present battalion soldiers.
Many complained of being overmedicated, of being accused of faking injury or illness or of getting separated from the Army on trumped-up charges or incomplete or altered medical records.
Garrett said a review of 292 punitive administrative actions taken against soldiers in the battalion during the past two years found none that needed to be reversed. The inspection did, however, find that some of the soldiers’ files lacked full and proper documentation. A Fort Bragg spokesman later called the errors in documentation minor.
Garrett said those who are complaining about the battalion should address their chain of command. If they can’t get satisfaction there, Garrett said, they can go to him or Helmick.
“There is nothing we want more than to satisfy those 40 people that don’t seem to be getting what they want from their chain of command,” Garrett said. “We are not going to throw our hands up. We don’t care if it’s one of them. We are going to continue to work our processes, continue to look at ourselves and continue to improve where we can to ensure that we provide the absolute best care to our soldiers and their families. They deserve nothing less.”
Garrett said many of the battalion’s soldiers will have to transition back to civilian life. Although they don’t often like to hear that, he said, a key component of managing their expectations is to keep them properly informed.
“One of the things that just jumped out at us is that we have got to continue to seek better ways to manage expectations and we have to be more creative,” he said.
Bellon wonders why so many soldiers would jump their chain of command and go to the media when there is such a cultural resistance in doing so.
“That 40 soldiers felt so strongly that they would go outside the chain of command demonstrates that serious deficiencies must exist,” he said.
Garrett said there is a perception among battalion soldiers that its leadership is not considering the medical conditions of soldiers who are being punished or separated from the Army for adverse actions.
At the recommendation of Fort Bragg’s inspector general, Col. Maggie Dunn, Garrett said the Army will begin recording any adverse actions rather than just telling the soldier.
Bellon took exception to the recommendation.
“Offering to provide increased documentation of adverse actions seems to sidestep the wider complaint,” Bellon said. “The issue is those actions taking precedent over or ignoring the medical condition. That response seems tone deaf.”
Garrett said some soldiers in the battalion also perceived a lack of care and compassion among the staff leaders.
“This obviously affects the command climate and will be addressed by Lt. Gen. Helmick and the hospital commander,” he said.
Garrett said the inspection found no reason to punish battalion staff, but he said many will soon be leaving through the normal Army transition process. That includes Lt. Col. Tom Schumacher, who has been the battalion’s commander for less than two years.
Garrett said an independent review determined there are appropriate medicine management policies in place, and the battalion’s staff is complying with providing medication to the soldiers.
He said there have been no “discernible trends” among soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion in the past two years. He said the battalion has seen two suicides, 16 “suicidal gestures” and 12 reports of domestic violence.
“It is unacceptable that two suicides, 16 attempts and 12 reports of domestic violence would be considered an insignificant trend,” Bellon responded. “Zero across the board should be the goal.”
Bellon said it appears that the findings place most of the blame on the soldiers, not the leadership.
“Overall, this reads as if they are saying it is all the soldiers’ fault,” he said. “How can it all be the soldiers’ fault? Shouldn’t some of the blame be with leadership? Especially if they are claiming a lack of information and documentation is part of the problem in this case?
“Managing expectations is indeed a key part of leadership’s job, which they admit to failing to do.
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