Army downplays story on WTU at Fort Carson
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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army on Monday played down a New York Times story that found problems with a Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Carson, Colo., saying it wasn’t an accurate reflection of overall care there.
The story, published Saturday, painted a bleak picture of troops receiving little therapy, being prescribed various medications that leave them disoriented or addicted, and enduring harsh treatment from noncommissioned officers.
Some of the soldiers swap medications with their comrades and others try heroin, which is readily available, according to the newspaper.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker said the Times’ story focused on a “select number of soldiers and families that were encountering problems,” and does not reflect the majority of soldiers in care.
A survey at the Fort Carson Warrior Transition Unit found that about 90 percent of respondents were satisfied with their care, Schoomaker told reporters on Monday.
“Even with a 90 percent satisfaction [rate], you’re going to have some people with very complex problems that are not going to be in that satisfied group,” he said.
Schoomaker acknowledged that the Army is concerned that soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are overmedicated.
About 45 percent of the more than 9,000 soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are on narcotic medications, according to Brig. Gen. Richard Thomas, head of a joint task force on how the services treat pain.
A 2008 survey of active-duty troops found that 15 percent of respondents had abused prescription drugs.
“We have concerns about the diversion of prescription drugs that can be used for recreational uses,” Schoomaker said.
When asked how illegal drugs make their way into Warrior Transition Units, Schoomaker replied, “I’m not sure it’s any more readily available within Warrior Transition Units than it is in the community at large.”
About 6.6 percent of troops in the Fort Carson’s substance abuse program are there for using opiates, such as heroin, said Maj. Gen. David Perkins, commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
There were 22 instances of illegal drug use at the Fort Carson Warrior Transition Unit in 2008, 42 in 2009, and 14 so far this year, Perkins said.
New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty defended the paper’s story as fair and even-handed.
The newspaper sought the Army’s side of the story and talked to Army officials about all the problems raised in the story, McNulty said in an e-mail. The Times also let Fort Carson know several days in advance that the story would run.
“After the story appeared, we heard back from several of the soldiers we spoke to, as well as others on other posts and at the Pentagon, who told us the situation was actually worse than we portrayed,” she said.
The day after the New York Times story ran, The Associated Press reported that the Defense official in charge of treating wounded troops had been forced to resign.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the official was not forced out because of the New York Times story.
“We were not aware of the Carson story until Saturday,” Morrell said in an e-mail.