NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Army plans to reduce the size of some of its 36 wounded warrior units by the end of the month and close three by October after tightening standards to stem a flood of patients, a spokesman said Tuesday.
The warrior transition units were created in 2007 to address reports of substandard care for wounded, ill and injured soldiers. The number of soldiers in these units has dropped from a high of more than 12,000 last June to about 9,500 currently as the Army screened patients more closely.
The Army announced last month that the falling numbers meant it would close three units at installations in Kansas and Alabama and reduce the size of four others at posts in Kansas, Georgia, Washington and the Fort Campbell installation on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Two units in Virginia will merge into a larger one.
Robert Moore, a spokesman for the Warrior Transition Command, said Tuesday the size reductions are expected to be finished around July 1 and the closings around Oct. 1.
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Commanders say the decrease is because the Army last year imposed stricter screening procedures for admitting soldiers into the units.
After the changes, Fort Stewart, Ga., will support 600 soldiers, down from 800. But Fort Benning’s transition unit is not on the list to be reduced. A year ago post officials reported that the local battalion supports 350 soldiers. The soldiers stay an average of eight months.
Previously, the Army automatically sent any ill or injured soldier who needed more than six months of recovery to a warrior transition unit. The soldiers were assigned officers and enlisted leaders to manage their medical care and they were assisted by medical staff who helped them through recovery and rehabilitation.
But the result was a flood of patients into the units, some of whom had simple injuries like torn ligaments or needed routine surgery like appendectomies. That detracted from the care of more serious cases, according to Col. Jimmie Keenan, the chief of staff who oversees the units for the Army.
“For those soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury that had more complex cases, resources were being pulled away,” Keenan said in a news release.
The process was restricted last year to allow in only soldiers who needed help managing a complex medical case and who needed more than six months of recovery.
The new units came in the wake of revelations about poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., including shoddy housing and bureaucratic delays for outpatients there. Army officials have said closing some and reducing the size of others should help ease staff shortages in the units. The units are required to have a certain ratio of soldiers to medical and command staff and that will not change under the restructuring plans.
The unit at Fort Campbell was staffed to care for 1,000 soldiers, but staff will be reduced to handle no more than 800 soldiers.
Army officials said the staffing reductions still leave more than enough workers for the units’ current population levels, allowing room if the number increases again.