On long holiday weekends, warriors not deployed check on one another since they normally have a weekend pass or time off – and this past Labor Day was no exception. The phone will ring, you see the caller ID nickname you assigned to someone you shared a foxhole with not long ago, you always stop what you’re doing and answer it. “Have you heard …”, “…you doing alright …”, “… remember the time we…”, “…let me know if you need anything…”. It goes on like that for however long it takes. The kids ask afterwards “Who was that?” You tell them, “RANGER 9”. They know who that is. They laugh, remembering the stories about this particular grizzled First Sergeant. Over time these calls are more infrequent and you miss them — because no one at home understands your silence. They try, but they don’t get it.
So the phone buzzed today, the caller ID said CANCER GIRL. Diagnosed at 22, she’s been fighting for her life for the past 18 months. The last time I heard from her she was having difficulties with her chain of command: her landlord wouldn’t allow her to break her lease to move onto post and be co-located to the chemo drip and the chain of command never fixed the problem. Instead, it took a determined and brave case manager to work her magic, but she told me afterwards she felt discarded. She used the same sentiment this go round as well. She’s off treatment for the time being and she has a new chain of command, but she’s still dealing with a host of issues and doesn’t have a clear status from the Physical Evaluation Board.
Seems like it was only last week that the New York Times broke the story on how Warrior Transition Units (“WTU”) were “Warehouses of Despair.” I asked her then if anything reported was true at her WTU. “Absolutely.” But that was this past April, more than four months ago, soon after which the Army started to spin and shifted the issue from “warehouses” to a few bad and despairing apples complaining to the press. The Surgeon General relied on favorable ratings from recent Wounded Warrior satisfaction surveys to assuage any public outcry. Then there were visits from senior Defense and Army leaders to Warrior Transition Units and the fix was in. In fact, the Surgeon General officially closed the case via a press briefing placing the fault inside Joe’s rucksack as sometimes due to soldiers entering service already mentally flawed with pre-existing conditions. As a result, this put them at risk for successfully completing effective treatment or for obtaining essential services when they find themselves assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit. Plus, it greatly complicates, if not nixes altogether, getting fairly compensated for service-connected disabilities.
“I feel like I don’t exist here. It’s as if all of us here are on the Island of Misfit Toys. We feel discarded.” “Has it gotten any better at the WTU?” “No, it’s worse.” “What can I do?” “There’s not much anyone can do for us. After all the dog and pony show visits, I thought it would return to business as usual, but it actually got worse. The visits and what they said afterwards made it look like it was our fault for complaining and ever since then, the leadership believes they have a license to do anything. And the other day, a classic TBI effects and PTSD crackup case that we thought for sure would rate a 70, 80, or 90% came back at 20% because he had a pre-existing condition before he entered the Army.” “Let me guess, ADD?” “Yes, Attention Deficit Disorder.” I tried to cheer her up, “But the surveys said everybody assigned to a WTU was as happy as a shiny whistle.” “Yeah right, you know what we do with those surveys?” “No, what’s that?” “We discard them, just like they do us.”
What could I say after that?