Editorial Column: Veteran Steve Robinson Stands Tall for Sick Soldiers

Denver Post

An Army general said Wednesday that a “Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade” would come soon to Fort Carson. It will help soldiers with post-traumatic stress and brain injuries.

As Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker spoke at Colorado’s Mountain Post, no one from Veterans for America stood beside him.

They should have. VFA played as big a role in Tucker’s announcement as any of Fort Carson’s brass.

Veterans for America, a group run by ex-military personnel, has forced the Army’s hand across the country by exposing bad treatment of soldiers who return from war with psychological wounds.

“What we do, plus the debacle of Walter Reed, has made them do things,” said VFA’s director of veterans affairs, Steve Robinson.

Before whistle-blowers attracted media attention, sick soldiers were being ignored or even forced from the military without the support they needed.

“We use media as a last resort,” said Robinson, “when we can’t get the attention of people who can make changes.”

Fort Carson conveniently announced formation of the Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade the week before nine senators send staff members to Carson. The senatorial staffers will investigate claims of inadequate health treatment of soldiers. Guess who raised the charges?

That’s right – Veterans for America.

Robinson said he met in Washington, D.C., on Monday with Tucker, the deputy commanding general of Walter Reed Medical Center and the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command.

“I gave him 10 cases of soldiers who had not gotten the correct treatment,” Robinson said. By Thursday, nine of those 10 soldiers had told Robinson that the general had interviewed them.

Yet to hear Tucker talk at Fort Carson, you would not know that VFA played any role in his trip to Colorado.

Instead, Tucker spoke of Fort Carson as “a great example of what right looks like.” In fact, Robinson and other advocates say, Fort Carson has made positive changes in health care for soldiers. The post does offer care models for other military bases.

But too often, it had to be embarrassed into action.

“Leaders at the unit level still don’t understand how to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” said Robinson. “Without help, people with PTSD turn to drinking and drugs. People with traumatic brain injury have discipline and anger issues. And yet they still say that PTSD and brain injury are not an excuse for bad behavior.”

Veterans for America’s latest charge is that the Army is forcing out some soldiers with war-related post-traumatic stress by claiming they have pre-existing personality disorders.

It is just one more thing in a years-long pattern. “Without (Veterans for America), more people would have killed themselves,” said an ex-Special Forces soldier who spent months in “medical hold” at Fort Carson in 2004 awaiting treatment.

The man didn’t want his name published. He feared the military would try to take away his disability benefits.

Problems treating post-traumatic stress or brain injury “were not going to go away without pressure and oversight” from outside the military, the ex-soldier said. “When I was (at Fort Carson), they just wanted to get soldiers with problems out of the service without giving them adequate care. In my case, if I didn’t have a medical background, I wouldn’t have gotten the treatment I needed.”

That’s a searing indictment. Almost as bad was a Fort Carson spokesman’s reaction to recent Veterans for America complaints. “They’ve said it a thousand times, and we’ve responded a thousand times, and we’re not going to get into it today,” the spokesman said.

Veterans for America has surely been a pain in the military’s butt, but if the Walter Reed scandal and the establishment of a Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade prove anything, it is this:

Without groups like Veterans for America, this country’s war casualties would be victims of tunnel vision as deadly as friendly fire.

Jim Spencer’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 303-954-1771, jspencer@denverpost.com or blogs.denverpost.com/spencer.

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