US Army Blocked Help for Soldiers
- Document Shows Army Blocked Help for Soldiers
by Ari Shapiro
Army Blocks Disability Paperwork Aid at Fort Drum
NPR Morning Edition, February 7, 2008 · A document from the Department
of Veterans Affairs contradicts an assertion made by the Army surgeon
general that his office did not tell VA officials to stop helping
injured soldiers with their military disability paperwork at a New
York Army post.
The paperwork can help determine health care and disability benefits
for wounded soldiers.
Last week, NPR first described a meeting last March between an Army
team from Washington and VA officials at Fort Drum Army base in
upstate New York. NPR reported that Army representatives told the VA
not to review the narrative summaries of soldiers' injuries, and that
the VA complied with the Army's request.
The day the NPR story aired, Army Surgeon General Eric B. Schoomaker
denied parts of the report. Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), who represents
the Fort Drum area, told North Country Public Radio, that "The Surgeon
General of the Army told me very flatly that it was not the Army that
told the VA to stop this help."
Now, NPR has obtained a four-page VA document that contradicts the
surgeon general's statement to McHugh. It was written by one of the VA
officials at Fort Drum on March 31, the day after the meeting. The
document says Col. Becky Baker of the Army Surgeon General's office
told the VA to discontinue counseling soldiers on the appropriateness
of Defense Department ratings because "there exists a conflict of
When contacted by NPR, Baker referred an interview request to the Army
Surgeon General's spokeswoman. The spokeswoman rejected requests for
interviews with Baker and Schoomaker.
The document says that before the Army team's visit, people from the
Army Inspector General's office came to Fort Drum and told the VA it
was providing a useful service to soldiers by reviewing their
According to the document, joining Baker on the Army team at the Fort
Drum meeting was Dr. Alan Janusziewicz. He retired as deputy assistant
surgeon general for the Army in October.
"I was part of the team, and I was probably instrumental in the
surgeon general denying that the Army had instructed the VA" to stop
reviewing soldiers' Army medical documents, Janusziewicz told NPR in a
Janusziewicz says he has no memory of Baker telling the VA to stop
helping soldiers with their military paperwork. In fact, he says, he
thought the VA at Fort Drum was doing the best job of any base he
visited. But he also says his recollection of the meeting is spotty,
since it took place almost a year ago.
"I believe that document is more likely to represent a
miscommunication of intent between what Col. Baker was trying to get
across and what folks on the receiving end of that communication
likely heard," Janusziewicz said.
The document describing the meeting at Fort Drum says the primary
purpose for the visit was to "ensure that there are no other 'Walter
Reed' situations at other Army installations." That's a reference to
the scandal at Walter Reed Army hospital in Washington, which detailed
reports of neglect of soldiers recovering from injuries sustained in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the document, Rosie Taylor, who recently retired as Fort
Drum's Disability Program manager, described soldiers at the base in
conditions of squalor and neglect. In an interview on Wednesday,
Taylor described "soldiers crawling on their bellies to go to the
bathroom, or soldiers who'd had surgery who couldn't go to chow
because they had no way to get there."
The document says one soldier was bedridden for three days without a
change of clothes or meal. Taylor says nobody listened to her
complaints until the Walter Reed scandal.
"Every time I walked into a meeting before, it was like 'Oh my God,
there goes $70,000.' And after Walter Reed hit the fan, it was like I
was getting phone calls, 'Rosie we're doing over a building and we
need your advice on access,'" Taylor says.
Taylor says the accessibility problems have generally been solved.
She doesn't remember whether the Army told the VA to stop helping
soldiers with their disability paperwork. But she will say this about
Fort Drum's VA workers: "They stand on their heads for soldiers. They
put their jobs on the line for soldiers. They don't care if they're
not supposed to do something; if a soldier needs something done, they
do it anyway."
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has already asked the Army to investigate
the situation at Fort Drum. She called the allegations in last week's
report "deeply disturbing."
Whether the situation at the Army base is a result of poor
communication, poor memory or something else altogether, the result is
the same: For the last year, hundreds of disabled soldiers at Fort
Drum have received less help with their disability paperwork than the
soldiers who came before them.
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