Secretary of the Army visits Fort Lewis
December 8, 2008
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Secretary of the Army Pete Geren arrived at Fort Lewis on Nov. 25 for a busy day of talking to Soldiers and assessing the care and progress the Warrior Transition Unit has been making.
Thanks to crossing the international dateline, Geren was working on his second Tuesday of the week when he landed at McChord Air Force Base from Korea.
Once on the ground, he met with Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., commanding general of I Corps and Fort Lewis.
Geren's main focus was on the quality of care provided to Fort Lewis' Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers and issues surrounding the care of wounded veterans, including the medical board process.
"It's important to see first-hand what is going on with the life of the Army, and important to be able to talk to Soldiers and get their perspectives," Geren said.
Geren said that WTU's continue to be works in progress since their introduction into Soldier care 18 months ago.
"We learned that we were not properly organized to handle outpatient care. We do a great job with inpatient care, a great job on the battlefield, a great job of getting Soldiers evacuated, but we really dropped the ball on outpatient care," he said.
Since reorganizing outpatient care, the Army has established 26 WTUs, said Geren.
As Geren made his way around Fort Lewis' WTU barracks, he talked to Soldiers who were doing their weekly wood-working class.
"The fact that the Secretary of the Army actually took the time to shake my hand personally and talk to me and treat me like he cared about me as an individual means a lot to me," said WTU Soldier Sgt. Joseph Plumb, a Pashtu linguist who was injured while serving in Afghanistan.
"I could feel in my heart (that he) really cared about the service I have given," Plumb continued.
Geren asked Soldiers what they saw that was and wasn't working for them, and what they believe they need to help with their recovery.
Most said they needed more primary care managers, but those issues were working to get resolved.
Plumb explained to Geren that he has a case manager who makes all his appointments and doctors who provide good quality care.
"They do a good job, but there are a lot of Soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion and sometimes it can feel like we are getting lost in the system," Plumb said.
Another issue that was discussed is how long medical evaluation boards are taking for Soldiers.
"We have a number of initiatives underway to try and improve those. In fact, it is not just Army-specific...the system is very bureaucratic, it takes too long, it is frustrating," said Geren.
Geren said the answer to the problem is to look at shortening the process and to make it as transparent as possible without jeopardizing the care Soldiers are receiving. It will not be something just the Army can accomplish, he said, but an issue that is department wide and may even require help from Congress when they return in January. However, as issues get resolved department-wide, Fort Lewis remains at the top of the list for the care of wounded warriors.
"Fort Lewis stacks up at the top," he said. "Fort Lewis, when it comes to medical care, has been very innovative...
"We have seen that (they have) been one of the innovators and incubators for our Army's standards," Geren said.
Geren credits the success to ground-breaking ideas and programs that come out of Madigan Army Medical Center, living conditions at the WTU and expert leadership provided to those transitioning through the wounded warrior program.
In addition to his tour of the WTU, Geren sat down for chow with Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Geren was appointed by President George W. Bush and sworn in as the 20th Secretary of the Army on July 16, 2007. His responsibilities as Secretary of the Army cover the following areas: inter-agency initiative, legislative affairs, special projects and oversees the spending of a $170 billion budget.
Geren earned his bachelor's (1974) and Juris Doctor (1978) degrees from the University of Texas, and worked as an attorney and businessman in Fort Worth, Texas.
In Sept 2001, he joined the Department of Defense and served as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
Sergeant Lyn Bradford is assigned to I Corps Public Affairs. This article appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.