June 11, 2008 in Nation/World

Plan could bar unfit troops

Gregg Zoroya USA Today

Study: One in 10 have debilitating condition

WASHINGTON – One in 10 soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan from three Army bases have medical problems severe enough to significantly limit their ability to fight, according to a Government Accountability Office study released Tuesday.

Pressure to rush soldiers into war zones caused leaders at Forts Stewart and Benning in Georgia, and Fort Drum, N.Y., to sometimes fail to assess health problems fully, the report says. The Army also lost files or inconsistently rated the severity of medical problems, GAO says.

Most ailments were musculoskeletal: herniated discs, back pain and chronic knee problems.

USA Today

The U.S. military command that oversees troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan wants to make it harder for combat commanders to send medically unfit troops to war zones, according to a proposal reviewed by USA Today.

The proposal from Central Command would add 16 medical conditions that would bar troops from deploying for combat duty. It would toughen a 2 1/2-year-old rule requiring combat commanders to seek a waiver before sending troops who need medical care to a war zone.

The broader intent of the guidelines is to make certain commanders seek the medical waiver rather than deploy soldiers with medical problems, said Ellen Embrey, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs.

Since 2003, the U.S military has sent into combat 43,000 troops deemed “non-deployable” by military doctors in the weeks before arriving in Iraq or Afghanistan, Pentagon records show. The vast majority were Army soldiers, the records show.

Central Command is concerned that any influx of non-deployable troops could tax a system that “provides only limited medical care,” the proposal says.

The new guidelines would keep out of the war zone troops with “any chronic medical condition that requires frequent clinical visits.” It would tighten restrictions on deploying troops with hearing and vision loss and “any musculoskeletal condition that significantly impairs performance of duties in a deployed environment.”

The proposal was confirmed by Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Speaks, a Central Command spokesman.

The waiver requirement was first spelled out in a February 2006 policy statement by David Chu, an undersecretary of defense, following direction from Congress. Guidance issued by Central Command last year did not provide specific directions for waivers.

Last year, 36 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colo., were sent to war with medical problems, a recent investigation shows. Commanders sought no waivers for the 36 soldiers, according to the report released under a Freedom of Information act request.

“Commanders did not know the correct steps to take,” the report says.

Six soldiers deployed with health problems were ultimately sent home. Two had shoulder injuries, two had mental health problems, one had a groin injury and a sixth could not carry a weapon, according to the investigative report.

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