Army Transition Units: “A Dark Place”
Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article about the Army’s “Warrior Transition Units,” which are meant to help transition soldiers coming out of combat zones like Iraq back into peacetime service. There are apparently some bumps in the implementation of these units.
The units were created in the wake of the 2007 scandal emanating from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where it was shown that returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq war zones were not receiving adequate mental health care and treatment. The Warrior Transition Units were meant to be intensive treatment units, focusing on providing the best care possible to address the mental health needs of these soldiers.
There are currently about 7,200 soldiers at 32 transition units across the Army, with about 465 soldiers at Fort Carson’s unit.
But interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson’s transition unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries. For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers.
You’d think these units would be full of activities, group therapy, individual therapy, and educational classes and programs meant to help a soldier transition back into “normal” life. And perhaps that was the original intent of the units. But without proper funding and qualified staff, it appears the units are not meeting their ideal mandate:
Some soldiers in the unit, and their families, described long hours alone in their rooms, or in homes off the base, aimlessly drinking or playing video games.
“In combat, you rely on people and you come out of it feeling good about everything,” said a specialist in the unit. “Here, you’re just floating. You’re not doing much. You feel worthless.”
At Fort Carson, many soldiers complained that doctors prescribed drugs too readily. As a result, some soldiers have become addicted to their medications or have turned to heroin. Medications are so abundant that some soldiers in the unit openly deal, buy or swap prescription pills.
Yikes. This is the best care available? I don’t think so.
But here’s where I started getting real angry while reading this article. Apparently some of the professionals involved in helping treat the soldiers believe some of the soldiers are malingering — faking their symptoms or the symptoms’ severity — in order to hang out in the unit or get drugs.
In many cases, the noncommissioned officers have made it clear that they do not believe the psychological symptoms reported by the unit’s soldiers are real or particularly serious. At Fort Hood, Tex., a study conducted just before the shooting rampage there last November — which found that many soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit thought their treatment relied too heavily on medication — also concluded that a majority of the cadre believed that soldiers were faking post-traumatic stress or exaggerating their symptoms.
But this doesn’t make sense based upon what Lt. Col. Andrew Grantham, a commander of one such unit, said earlier in the article:
The colonel offered another explanation for complaints about the unit. Many soldiers, he said, struggle in transition units because they would rather be with regular, deployable units. In some cases, he said, they feel ashamed of needing treatment.
So why would soldiers be faking symptoms in order to stay in the units if they felt the units were unnecessary or stupid? One of those accusations cannot be true — or they can both be true, but only for a small minority of different soldiers in each unit.
Both explanations sound more like scapegoating. Rather than own up to the problems of these brand new units, it sounds like the Army is going around pointing fingers at every other possible explanation — blame the victim (they’re faking it!) or blame the makeup of the units (they’re non-deployable). But don’t blame the implementation or actual use of the units.
We cannot know for certain the extent of the problem, as the New York Times article is only based upon a subset of interviews with select individuals. They apparently did not interview any soldiers who were helped by these units — which is an odd oversight, assuming the units have actually helped some soldiers. It makes the piece seem biased and one-sided, despite getting a few “official” comments.
Is the Army still dropping the ball when it comes to the mental health of their personnel? This article makes it seem like the problem still exists, and the Warrior Transition Units may have made some issues even worse by over-medicating soldiers upon their return. Perhaps a government oversight committee will open an independent investigation to get to the truth of the matter, and ensure soldiers are receiving the care they need.
Read the full article: Feeling Warehoused in Army Trauma Care Units
Grohol, J. (2010). Army Transition Units: “A Dark Place”. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/04/27/army-transition-units-a-dark-place/