An aide to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said the lawmaker will press the Army's top doctor at a congressional hearing today to look into reports of problems for wounded and injured soldiers at Fort Lewis and Madigan Army Medical Center.
A spokeswoman for the Washington Democrat said she received several calls in the past few days from soldiers in the medical hold units at the post, who complained of long waits for care and frustration with the Army's medical and disability bureaucracies.
Murray will press Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley when he appears before the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee today. The hearing is one of many this week as lawmakers begin to investigate reports of shocking treatment of outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"She will be asking him specifically about Fort Lewis and reports that we're hearing out of Fort Lewis that things are not going well, and to ask him to look into them," said Alex Glass, a Murray spokeswoman.
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Meantime, the post's top commander, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, and the hospital commander, Brig. Gen. Sheila Baxter, have reportedly called an emergency meeting as soon as today to look into issues for medical hold soldiers and the boards that evaluate their injuries.
Also today, the post and hospital have scheduled a news conference and media tours of the facilities where wounded and injured soldiers live while undergoing outpatient care at Madigan.
Several soldiers from a medical hold company for wounded and injured National Guardsmen and reservists contacted Murray's office after a News Tribune story Saturday about the facilities for them and active-duty wounded soldiers at the post.
Post officials showed a reporter the medical hold barracks and selected a group of soldiers to be interviewed, who said they were generally satisfied with their care and quarters.
But a few soldiers who are among the 170 or so in the hold-over company for guardsmen and reservists told the newspaper this week that they were angry and frustrated about a number of issues.
They spoke on condition that they not be named because they said they were afraid they would face disciplinary action or adverse decisions in their medical review cases if they spoke out publicly.
"The soldiers that do talk face reprisals," said one soldier. "They are basically saying, 'You don't like it here, go home.' "
The company is made up of Guardsmen and reservists who were hurt while on active-duty for Iraq or Afghanistan. They can leave the military to seek treatment through Veterans Affairs or in the private sector, or remain on active-duty for treatment in the military health care system and to go through a medical board that will either declare them fit for duty or rate their disability.
The soldier who talked about reprisals said he has been in the company for more than a year while undergoing treatment for an array of injuries. He is waiting for the outcome of a disability board.
He and other soldiers said they believe the boards seek to move soldiers out of the Defense Department health care system with as low a disability rating and as quickly as possible. The lower the rating, the lower the disability payment the soldier receives for his or her injuries.
Another soldier said demanding care in the military system can cause long delays and bureaucratic headaches.
"If you want your care, you really have to fight for it," the second soldier said. "Their strategy is to get you so disgruntled that you just say screw it and go home."
While the soldier said he's received excellent care from some doctors and generally good assistance from his Madigan case manager, he said, "there's a lot of insincerity across the board. ... They tend to look at all people as malingering, which is very unfair.
"We don't make this stuff up so we can stay forever in medical hold."
The president of a national advocacy group for wounded soldiers and their families said she'd heard reports of problems at Madigan - mainly delays in care and administrative issues.
The group's Washington chapter president said Tuesday she doesn't believe the problems compare with those at Walter Reed.
"To put Madigan med hold and Walter Reed med hold in the same bowl is not accurate. It's nowhere close to that," said Janice Buckley of Operation Homefront Washington.
Madigan officials couldn't be reached Tuesday, but spokeswoman Sharon Ayala told The News Tribune last week the hospital is committed "to do the best we can to make sure (soldiers) get the care that they need and they get the support."