The Army is closing some of the medical recovery units it built during the peak of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, reflecting the declining number of troops coming home with combat wounds.
The change will lead to a small expansion of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It will consolidate remote care services that mostly cater to National Guard and Reserve soldiers who do not live near major military installations and are now handled in Sacramento.
The Sacramento staff already reports to Lewis-McChord; they are expected to physically move here by October.
It’s unclear whether additional wounded and injured patients will come to the base south of Tacoma — and if so, when.
Commanders said the consolidation will not alter the care now given to 486 soldiers in Lewis-McChord’s Warrior Transition Battalion, a number that includes the troops enrolled in the Sacramento remote care headquarters.
“These changes reflect our commitment to keep the faith with our soldiers and their families,” Army Western Regional Medical Command Commander Brig. Gen. John Cho said. “Adapting our mission to serve a declining population of wounded, ill and injured soldiers enhances the overall care we provide to our soldiers.”
The Army built up 38 warrior transition units in 2007 following a Washington Post investigation that revealed substandard care for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center during the height of the Iraq War.
The units were designed to provide counseling and medical care for chronically ill, injured and wounded soldiers as they moved through a vulnerable period of their careers. Since 2007, 58,000 soldier passed through the units with 49 percent of them returning to the force, according to Army data.
There are now 29 warrior transition units at Army installations across the country, plus nine so-called community-based warrior transition units. The community sites monitor soldiers receiving remote care.
The Army plans to close five of its smaller warrior transition units at Army posts while shutting down all nine community-based sites. The community sites will be consolidated with the transition units on military bases, as is planned for the Sacramento staff that will be assigned to Lewis-McChord.
About 7,000 soldiers are enrolled in warrior transition units, down from 12,000 in 2008, according to The Associated Press.
Lewis-McChord in 2011 opened a $53 million barracks for its Warrior Transition Battalion with room for 408 soldiers. The barracks are a little more than half full today.
Last January, the local warrior transition unit had 790 patients counting soldiers assigned to the Sacramento site. It has 300 fewer soldiers today.