A high-ranking Pentagon official this week acknowledged that Madigan Army Medical Center provided unacceptable treatment to Oregon National Guard soldiers returning from Iraq.
Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley’s April 13 letter to an Oregon senator was the latest high-level response to complaints that National Guard members were rushed through the hospital and treated as if they were second-rate soldiers.
The soldiers belonged to the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team. They obtained slides from a Madigan training presentation that included slights, such as one showing a trucker’s cap with the words “Weekend Warrior” to represent reserve soldiers.
Stanley said the Guard’s complaints triggered five separate investigations. He declined to release all of those reports to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., but pledged to answer specific questions.
“The training failures, benefits counseling errors, and systemic deficiencies that arose during the demobilization of the 41st IBCT were unacceptable,” Stanley wrote. “We have learned many lessons as a result of these incidents and the department is doing everything it can to ensure they do not happen again.”
Wyden’s pressed the Army to investigate whether Reserve and National Guard soldiers are given less attention from medical staff when they return from deployments. Five generals promised to investigate the complaints from the Oregon soldiers when the brigade came home last May.
The Army finished its investigations in October, but has declined to disclose all its findings. It also has said the reports led to some improvements in how soldiers are processed through hospitals as they come home from deployments, but it has declined to say specifically what has changed.
It released one 30-page report to Wyden that concluded in part that Army medical staff do not give National Guard and Reserve soldiers second-rate attention.
“We queried soldiers from all three Army components (active duty, Reserve and National Guard) and found no indications or opinions of unequal quality of medical care,” said the report from the Western Regional Medical Command inspector general.
However, memos obtained by The News Tribune through a Freedom of Information Act request shows the Army views complaints from the Oregon soldiers as part of a broader problem in how soldiers move through “Soldier Readiness Processing” sites at hospitals when they return from combat.
“I am convinced many of the (SRP) issues are systemic issues affecting SRP sites generally, which suffer from a lack of effective leadership, definitive training and guidance on the complicating and occasionally inconsistent guidance relevant to SRPs, the availability of treatment and benefits and the disposition of reserve component personnel,” wrote Maj. Gen. Philip Volpe, commander of the Western Regional Army Medical Command, in an Oct. 5 memo.
The regional medical command is based at Lewis-Mc-Chord and has oversight over military health care facilities in 20 states.
Wyden spokesman Tom Towslee said the senator views Undersecretary Stanley’s letter as progress. Wyden still wants more clear answers on whether Reserve and National Guard soldiers are subjected to “systemic discrimination” in the military.
“None of the information we received from the military suggests that they even looked into the problem,” Towslee said. “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.”