Wounded warriors to get specialized barracks
January 13, 2010
TOKYO — The Army is spending $1.2 billion to build specialized barracks and transition centers for wounded troops who remain on active duty but face weeks or months of recovery and rehabilitation.
The centers will put all the aspects of soldiers’ recovery — from medical treatment to family support to career counseling — in one setting adjacent to a military hospital.
The consolidated sites are meant to help soldiers transition more quickly to better health and to the next stage in their lives, either inside or outside the military, says Col. Rolan W. Small, a chief adviser for the Army Warrior Transition Command.
The centers are another response from the Pentagon to the reality of fighting two lengthy wars where more dangerous weapons have mixed with improved battlefield medicine. The injured troops need a lengthy convalescence, and the military has recognized they need a better space in which to recover.
"The Army has had to change their method of approaching care for wounded warriors," said Small, who has more than two decades in the Army and a background in hospital administration.
Compared with care received by Vietnam War wounded, "it’s night and day," he said during a recent phone interview.
For troops like Staff Sgt. John Engel, the difference will be tangible.
Engel is part of the Warrior Transition Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kan., which is slated to move into the Army’s first completed complex in the next few weeks.
Engel was working detainee operations at Camp Cropper, a part of the military’s footprint at Baghdad International Airport, when a pinched nerve in his lower back and a blood clot in his right leg sent him for treatment at Fort Riley on Halloween.
To make appointments at the Irwin Army Community Hospital, Engel and other senior wounded soldiers sent back to Riley soon had to cross an icy road with no sidewalks or crosswalks.
Others, he said, have had it worse. One of his fellow soldiers, who is on crutches, lives on the second floor of a building with no elevator.
The Warrior Transition Complexes are meant to consolidate the services a recovering soldier needs, Small said. The bulk of the buildings are barracks, some private and some with shared baths and living areas. Some can house family members needed to help care for the patient. The complexes also include food courts, lounge space, day care sites, and office space dedicated to education, legal aid, and other military benefits services.
The centers won’t contain health care services or exam rooms. But their location next to hospitals makes it much easier for patients to get to appointments and for wounded soldiers to spend time together while they heal, Engel said.
As of mid-December, nearly 9,000 troops qualified as "warriors in transition," according to Small. The Army’s approved construction plans will create 3,788 beds for those troops. The average stay is estimated at 220 days, he said.
For now, Small said, the Army expects the bed-to-wounded-warrior ratio to work. Not every wounded soldier will need to move into the transition complex. Some may have family living near their treatment center; others may even have permanent on-base housing, he said.
All told, the military has plans for 23 centers: 22 in the States and one in Germany, Small said.
"We are really, really making a concerted effort to do what is right to provide the best quality of care and services for those who have laid their life on the line for our country. That’s not only necessary. It’s important for the long-term survivability of our volunteer force."