Fort Bliss a winner in warrior transition program restructuring

By DAVID BURGE | El Paso Times, Texas | Published: January 17, 2014

FORT BLISS, Texas — With the war in Afghanistan drawing down, the Army is restructuring its warrior transition units which care for wounded, injured and ill soldiers.

Fort Bliss, William Beaumont Army Medical Center and the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion appear to be net winners in the restructuring, officials said Thursday.

The Army will deactivate five out of its 29 warrior transition units later this year but the one at Fort Bliss will not be impacted.

The Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion will also be one of about a dozen of the units to get what's called a Community Care Unit.

That means the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion for the first time will be able to remotely manage the cases of soldiers — primarily National Guard and reservists — who have relatively straightforward treatment plans and can heal at home, said Col. Michael Heimall, commander of William Beaumont, which oversees the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion.

Up to 100 soldiers from Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas could have their cases managed remotely by the Fort Bliss WTB, Heimall said.

Twice a year, they would visit the facility at Fort Bliss or staffers from here would go visit clusters of these soldiers healing in their home communities.

In the past few years, the demand for warrior transition unit services has declined — from more than 12,000 soldiers in the Army-wide system in 2008 to just more than 7,000 currently, according to Beaumont officials.

This provided a logical time for the Army to re-evaluate this system and streamline it, Heimall said. The Army will close smaller warrior transition units at Fort Irwin, Calif.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Fort Jackson, S.C.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; and the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. The Army also will close nine community-based warrior transition units that provided outpatient care and were located in local communities instead of military installations.

The Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion already takes care of about 350 wounded, injured and ill soldiers who require complex care, said Lt. Col. Tommy Cardone, the battalion's commander.

It has a staff of about 170 military and civilian workers.

The new Community Care Unit at the Fort Bliss WTB will open by Aug. 31, Heimall said.

About 16 additional staff members will be needed, but the center won't need to be built and will be located at the current Warrior Transition Complex that opened at Fort Bliss in June 2011, Heimall and Cardone said.

"The mission itself of the WTBs and the WTUs won't go away because the nation has the commitment to those who serve," Cardone said.


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