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Oregon lawmakers outline Army’s response to soldiers’ complaints about Madigan

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on April 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
April 20, 2011 5:58 pm

The Army’s response to complaints from Oregon National Guard soldiers about care they received at Madigan Army Medical Center last year could lead to soldiers spending an extra week at military hospitals when they return from combat deployments.

Oregon Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Kurt Schrader revealed parts of the plan Wednesday following a meeting with Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

The details the lawmakers released include:

•    Requiring leaders of National Guard and Reserve units to stay with their soldiers while they receive post-deployment medical attention.
•    Allowing National Guard and Reserve soldiers to spend up to 14 days at military hospitals while they’re demobilized. Currently, they’re allowed five to seven days.
•    Creating a “Soldier Validation Board” comprised of a unit’s commanders, an Army senior leader, military support agencies and state leaders to ensure that soldiers receive appropriate care, benefits and entitlements.
•    Standardizing briefings to ensure that soldiers are aware of their benefits.
•    Improving communication so soldiers can access to medical care after they leave a military base.

Oregon soldiers in the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team last year complained that Madigan officials rushed them through the hospital and treated them as if they were second-class soldiers when they returned from a yearlong tour in Iraq. They also obtained a Madigan training program that referred to Reserve and National Guard soldiers as “Weekend Warriors.”

Those slights inflamed Oregon leaders, who viewed them as a sign of institutional bias against National Guard and Reserve soldiers.

The lawmakers said they’re convinced the Army is taking the complaints seriously.

“The Department of Defense has acknowledged that the treatment of these troops was not what it should be,” Wyden said. “Now the military has taken steps to improve the situation.”

The Army conducted five separate investigations into the complaints, but has kept the details classified. The News Tribune obtained several memos from the investigations that showed senior leaders in the Oregon units left the hospital before the units completed their post-deployment processing.

The memos also showed that the Army viewed the complaints as a sign of overall stress at the sites where active-duty and Reserve service members return from deployments.

The lawmakers said Chiarelli pledged to ask the Army Inspector General to conduct a follow-up investigation in six months to determine if the new policies are being implemented. They did not disclose copies of the reports Chiarelli provided to them.

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