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Ensure equal medical care for ‘citizen soldiers’

Post by Cheryl Tucker on May 20, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
May 20, 2010 5:31 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

It’s time to give the term “weekend warrior” a permanent furlough.

At one time, the reference describing National Guardsmen might have been appropriate. They typically served “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” training for that unlikely day they might be needed to defend the nation. Their toughest jobs often entailed preventing looting in the aftermath of natural disasters.

That all changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

When the nation subsequently went to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, it almost immediately began to rely heavily on National Guard and Reserve units for man (and woman) power. Guardsmen and reserves have served and been wounded or killed right alongside members of regular military units. Many have served multiple tours abroad, hurting their civilian careers and causing financial stress to their families.

So any notion that Guard and reserve troops should receive second-class medical care upon returning from duty abroad is one that needs to be quickly and decisively quashed.

Yet many members of the Oregon National Guard believe that they have, indeed, received substandard care at Joint Base Lewis-McChord compared to the way the I Corps soldiers they served alongside are treated.

They say they’ve been denied second opinions, which they are entitled to by law; shunted through the system more quickly in order to make room for returning regular Army troops; and forced to leave active duty before getting the medical care they need.

In one particularly egregious case, the acting chief of family practice at Madigan Army Medical Center insensitively referred to reserve and Guard troops as “weekend warriors” in a PowerPoint presentation that depicted different tracks of care for them and active duty troops returning from war. And she suggested that some of them were trying to delay their return to civilian life for financial reasons.

To its credit, Army brass are acting quickly to address the Oregon Guardsmen’s allegations, which were outlined in letters from that state’s U.S. senators. The Army surgeon general has apologized for the PowerPoint indiscretion, and the other concerns are being examined.

The military does face a huge challenge meeting the sometimes long-term medical needs of thousands of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But it can ill afford to alienate the nation’s “citizen soldiers” – a term that seems much more appropriate now than “weekend warriors” – given America’s heavy dependence on them in time of war.

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