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Shrinking population triggers warrior care overhaul

Jan. 9, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Army is changing the way it provides community-based care to wounded soldiers.
The Army is changing the way it provides community-based care to wounded soldiers. (Air Force)
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The Army has announced it is shuttering Warrior Transition Units at five installations and eliminating 549 related jobs, saying the move is a response to declining numbers in the units as the Army readies to leave Afghanistan.

The Army is restructuring the way it provides community-based care for wounded warriors, launching 13 new Community Care Units across 11 installations by Sept. 30, to replace its nine Community-Based Warrior Transition Units, which primarily provide care for Reserve and National Guard troops. These units support more than 1,300 soldiers.

Although officials concede the move may provide a cost savings, the changes are primarily based on a population drop in the units. From its peak of 12,551 in 2008, the population fell to 7,070 as of Jan 2, the lowest since the units began in 2007.

“We’re happy to see fewer ill and injured soldiers, but based on that declining population and our commitment to provide the best care for these soldiers, the secretary of the Army has approved changes in fiscal 2014,” said Brig. Gen. David Bishop, head of Warrior Transition Command.

The move to overhaul Community-Based Warrior Transition Units, meant to improve access to services and staff-to-soldier ratios, was due in some part to recommendations from among the many reviews and oversight bodies designed to improve wounded warrior care, as well as input from soldiers, their families and commanders, Bishop said.

“Everything we’re doing is borne out of a desire to improve things, not cut things,” he said.

The command is closing the five WTU’s where the populations of wounded, ill or injured soldiers are “extremely low,” Bishop said. None of them have more than 36 soldiers, and most have fewer than 10 soldiers, he said.

■ Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

■ Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

■ Fort Irwin, Calif.

■ Fort Jackson, S.C.

■ West Point, N.Y.

Technically, the units are being “inactivated” and not closed completely, as the Army could reactivate them if needed, Bishop said.

The 549 cadre jobs eliminated, out of 3,971 cadre across the command, mirror a “line” unit for the soldiers in their care and are typically in the unit on two-year assignments. Active-duty personnel are to be reassigned in line with Army personnel policies, reservists may be allowed to serve out their tours or request reassignment and civilians will be reassigned based on their skills sets and could be offered early retirement.

Bishop said the Army is working carefully to ensure none of the 63 wounded soldiers assigned to these units fall through the cracks as they transition into their next unit, based on their clinical needs, or out of the Army.

“Soldiers and their families assigned to these WTUs will undergo a deliberate transition process,” Bishop said. “We will make sure their care plan is not interrupted and they will have a positive, warm hand-off from one unit to the next.”

The reductions allowed the Army to reinvest in the program, and in many WTUs add physical therapists, occupational therapists, transition coordinators, mail clerks and drivers, as well as improve nurse case manager and squad leader ratios, Bishop said.

In WTB headquarters units, the ratio of nurse case managers to soldiers will double from 1-to-20 to 1-to-10, easing the workload of cadre members, Bishop said. The ratio of squad leaders, who provide assessments of incoming troops, the ratio will rise from 1-to-10 to 1-to-8.

Community-Based Warrior Transition Units, which provide remote management of soldiers living in their communities, have been located around the country outside of Army installations. Soldiers in these units receive medical care through Tricare, have medical needs that are not deemed complex and are able to live with their families.

One of the main changes with the new Community Care Units is that each one would be nested within a Warrior Transition Battalion, on an installation, a move intended to allow cadre members better access to installation support systems for soldiers, better communication with the command structure and standardization between units. Also there are to be fewer administrative echelons, which is intended to cut delays in transferring soldiers home.

“You’re going to have cadre overseeing soldiers in the WTU who will have access to a Soldier Family Assistance Center right there,” Bishop said. “It’s resources for the cadre to enhance the experience for the soldier.”

The new CCU will also provide a squad leader and platoon sergeant to allow for better oversight. Where the ratio had been 40 soldiers per platoon sergeant, there will one squad leader for every 33 soldiers and one platoon sergeant for every six soldiers.

“You’re going to have few soldiers to manage, so it will be more focused for the cadre members because they will have more time,” Bishop said.

Each company will receive a transition coordinator who will offer soldiers job assistance because, Bishop said, “if you’re a recovering warrior, and you’re not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, of getting a job, that impacts you.”

The nine CBWTUs being closed are in the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Utah and Virginia. The Puerto Rico CBWTU will become a Community Care detachment under the mission command of the Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion.

The Army is adding CCUs within WTB’s at these 11 Army installations:

■ Fort Belvoir, Virginia (will have 2 CCUs)

■ Fort Benning, Ga.

■ Fort Bliss, Texas

■ Fort Bragg, N.C.

■ Fort Carson, Colo.

■ Fort Gordon, Ga.

■ Fort Hood, Texas

■ Fort Knox, Ky. (will have 2 CCUs)

■ Fort Stewart, Ga.

■ Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

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