Army leaders testify to Congress on WTU support
July 24, 2008
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 24, 2008) - Army leaders testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday, outlining initiatives to increase Warrior Transition Unit support to include cadre, medical care providers and facilities for wounded warriors.
At a hearing of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, Army leaders said that despite some bureaucracy and shortfalls in support personnel, the WTUs and Army Medical Action Plan are working.
Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, deputy chief of staff for G-1, provided an AMAP overview and assured the committee that over the last 18 months, the Army has made tremendous improvements to streamline the disability and medical evaluation board process, and eliminate wasted time in processing orders.
"Our system of caring for and supporting our warriors in transition and their families is vastly superior to the previous system, but we acknowledge however, that it absolutely needs to work better," Rochelle said. "Manning the WTUs is only second to manning those units preparing to deploy."
Rochelle added the Army was adjusting permanent-change-of-station reporting times for the WTUs in order to meet the intent of getting Soldiers fit for duty quickly to their next assignments. He said the change is eliminating a delay and the backlog of Soldiers remaining in the WTUs.
Lt. Gen. Robert Wilson, head of the Army Installation Management Command, told the committee there are presently 35 WTUs in modified existing facilities consisting of barracks, Soldier Family Assistance Centers and headquarters buildings. He also said the Army was building new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant facilities which will be located as close as possible to medical treatment facilities to promote the healing process.
"Our support plan includes new construction to build a permanent mix of ADA compliant one plus one barracks and apartment style facilities to best provide for our warriors in transition," he said. "This footprint considers the projected growth of our WTU populations, our BRAC realignments and the Grow the Army initiatives.
Wilson thanked Congress for supporting warriors in transition through the passage of the fiscal year 08 supplemental bill which includes WTU projects at seven locations valued at $138 million. Fort Riley, Kan., will receive WTU barracks and a Soldier and Family Assistance Center; Fort Drum, N.Y., will also receive new barracks and a headquarters; Fort Hood, Texas a new SFAC; and Forts Campbell (Ky.), Carson (Colo.), Polk (La.) and Stewart (Ga.) will pick up new barracks and headquarters.
He added that the Army is presently working with the Defense Department to build complexes to meet the growing WTU requirements in FY09 and beyond.
Maj. Gen. David A. Rubenstein, chief of the Medical Service Corps and the Army's deputy surgeon general, addressed the committee on the hiring of health-care professionals. He said the Army needs direct-hire authority which would reduce bureaucracy by speeding up the hiring process. Part of the problem, particularly in the hiring of nurses, is that there's also a shortage of RNs in the civilian sector and in some communities, the Army is competing against health-care systems capable of offering higher pay, he said.
Brig. Gen. Gary H. Cheek, director of the Warrior Care and Transition Office, said the Army is working to empower commanders with more options for managing wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. He said this will refine the entry and exit criteria to better focus the WTUs on those "who truly require complex managed care."
"We did project growth (in the WTUs) and in fact what we built our original structure for was about 8,000 growth in February of this year -- which turned out to be pretty accurate," he said. "It continued to grow, which we also forcasted, but were just not agile enough to respond to that.
"As we look back on that, one of the things we recognized was that we had not sufficiently empowered our commanders in that triad of leadership on the installations with enough options on how they could best manage this population; so our recent fragmentary order really gives them more discretion and options in terms of who they bring into the WTUs," he explained.