Best Defense

Koch responds to General Cheek: 90% of WTUers are not ‘wounded warriors’

I am willing to keep up this discussion. So is Noel Koch, who this morning sent along this reply to General Cheek’s comments posted yesterday: By Noel Koch Best Defense wounded warrior columnist General Cheek has kindly suggested I might offer my vision of how the Army’s Wounded Warrior program should be run, and I ...

U.S. Army
U.S. Army

I am willing to keep up this discussion. So is Noel Koch, who this morning sent along this reply to General Cheek’s comments posted yesterday:

By Noel Koch
Best Defense wounded warrior columnist

General Cheek has kindly suggested I might offer my vision of how the Army’s Wounded Warrior program should be run, and I shall in due course. In the interim, one useful start might be to adopt the General’s own vision of a tiered system in which Wounded Warriors are managed separately from those camping in the WTUs for as long as they are able to game the system. I believe this notion came up during one of our discussions involving his consternation over an Army Colonel who was managing to squat in one of the WTUs for something on the order of 600 days, resorting to various subterfuges, including threats of suicide, to defeat efforts to move him on. 

Regarding the matter of satisfaction surveys, which seem to be a running point of contention, the following is an excerpt from a report by the US Government Accountability Office: 

"The Army’s feedback mechanisms include its Warrior Transition Unit Program Satisfaction Survey, which collects information from servicemembers in WTUs on a number of issues, including the primary care manager and nurse case manager. However, the surveys response rates for the WTUs have been low (13 to 35 percent) and the Army has not determined whether the results obtained from the respondents are representative of all WTU servicemembers. An Army official told GAO that the Army does not plan to conduct analyses to determine whether the survey results are representative, because it is satisfied with the response rates. In GAO’s view, the response rates are too low for the Army to reliably report satisfaction of servicemembers in WTUs." 

General Cheek notes that, "Approximately 10% of Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers have received a Purple Heart." This means that 90% of the Soldiers in the WTUs are not combat-wounded. Here myriad issues arise, and it is in that wide space of 90% non-combat Wounded Warriors that so many of the problems are incubated. This is not a simple issue, and I will elaborate on it at the appropriate time. 

The General also makes reference to the Recovery Coordination Program, stating that, "The Army does comply with the Recovery Coordination Program and exceeds the standards of that program. The Army did not accept the contracted Care Coordinators offered from Mr. Koch because we already had personnel (Nurse Case Managers and Army Wounded Warrior Program advocates) that had been doing that mission for two years and four years respectively." It is important to be clear that the Recovery Coordination Program (RCP) was not an initiative of my Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy (WWCTP), although we were responsible for recruiting, training, and managing the Recovery Care Coordinators. Rather, the program was mandated by Congress. Whether the Army is in compliance with the Congressional mandate has been a matter of unresolved dispute between General Cheek and the WWCTP. The Army program, which the General says "exceeds the standards" of the RCP is the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) Advocate program. To put the RCP in perspective, the Marines, Navy, and Air Force all use the Recovery Care Coordinators, although General Cheek has approached these services to suggest they adopt a program more closely aligned with his AW2 program. All have declined. It is interesting to note as well that the Army Reserves use Recovery Care Coordinators, not AW2 Advocates. 

The AW2 Advocate program advertises that it will follow up with the Wounded Warrior for a period of five years following separation to provide care and assistance. To put that promise, and the overall efficacy of the AW2 program in perspective, I want to share the following, sent last night to a close friend of mine and sent on by him to me: 

I am about ready to go nuclear on AW2. A week ago tomorrow one of my soldiers died. Probably took his life with his VA issued drugs. I reported this event per guidelines and then my wife and I went to Sacramento and spent several hours with the widow. No one at any level has called me about anything related to this tragedy. And it is a tragedy. This veteran left a wife and four small kids. The VA has terminated all pay and benefits. I am scrambling to find out what she and her family will live on for the rest of her life. In the meantime, AW2 is obsessed with time cards and punctuation in the paperwork we submit. I am in a rage about this. 

There is a new AW2 Director coming in soon. In my view he should ask for the resignations of EVERY supervisor in AW2 and make them go through competitive interviews. And we should be seeking combat veterans, retired senior NCO’s and officers to fill all these positions. We are filled with social workers and others who know nothing about what it takes to take care of our AW2 families. I have many more such recommendations but nowhere to send them. The place is dysfunctional and full of hypocrites. Or maybe it is time for me to leave. But I just can’t leave these soldiers. 

Sorry to vent. Regards (name withheld) 

This is an extreme representation of wider spread concerns that we heard regularly from Soldiers and Their Families regarding AW2.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
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