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Army should give details on changes at Madigan

Post by Cheryl Tucker on April 27, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
April 27, 2011 5:01 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

The way Madigan Army Medical Center treated Oregon’s 41st National Guard Brigade last year was unacceptable, the Army admits, and changes have been made to address the problem.

It just won’t say what those changes are. According to the Army, that information – as well as details about the investigation – are classified.

Talk about unacceptable.

It’s understandable that privacy issues might be involved, but that can be handled by redacting names. Government entities do that all the time. Another reason the Army gives for keeping the information secret is that it pertains to quality assurance – which sounds like an awfully broad and convenient classification.

The investigation into complaints of substandard treatment of Oregon National Guard soldiers compared to that of regular Army soldiers led to the Army concluding that it had “systemic issues” with its Soldier Readiness Processing sites at hospitals when units return from combat. That suggests a much wider problem than that experienced by one National Guard brigade at one SRP.

The Army says there’s no indication of unequal treatment of active duty, Reserve and National Guard soldiers. So if the Oregon Guard brigade received “unacceptable” but equal treatment, does that mean all soldiers have been receiving the same poor level of care?

It could be that the Oregon soldiers were at Madigan at a particularly manpower-stressed time for the hospital. Or that the members of Congress they complained to – Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Kurt Schrader – were unusually forceful in pursuing the issue with the Army. It’s hard to tell, since the details aren’t being shared.

Wyden and Schrader were able to announce some important – and welcome – changes resulting from the Army investigation. Among them, Guard and Reserve soldiers can spend up to 14 days at military hospitals while being demobilized instead of five to seven days, and a Soldier Validation Board will ensure soldiers receive appropriate care and benefits.

Also, Guard and Reserve units’ leaders will be required to stay with their soldiers receiving post-deployment attention. The Army concluded that one reason the Oregon soldiers got substandard care was that their superiors had gone home, leaving no ranking officers to run interference. Wyden’s office says the senior officers tried to stay but the Army wouldn’t allow it.

The Army should be more forthcoming about what problems it found at Madigan and how they’re being addressed to prevent a recurrence of the “unacceptable” care given the Oregon National Guard. There’s no reason for that information to be secret. And if plans are in the works to address those “systemic” issues, that also is of public interest.

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