Declining numbers prompt Army to restructure WTUs
May 26, 2009
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 26, 2009) -- The Army is in the process of streamlining its 36 Warrior Transition Units between now and October by closing three WTUs and restructuring six others.
The number of Soldiers assigned to WTUs has declined from a high of 12,500 in June 2008 to its present number of about 9,500 and officials said they expect a further decline to 8,500 by summer 2010.
The Warrior Transition Command, the Army agency that sets WTU policy, could not justify the manpower or operating expenses required to keep open WTUs at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; Fort Rucker and Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
The WTU at Fort Lee, Va., will also be consolidated with the one at Fort Eustis, Va., which will increase its structure to support 250 warriors in transition. WTUs at Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Fort Campbell, Ky., will restructure to accommodate lower projected populations.
The restructuring will in no way be detrimental to the care of Soldiers, said Col. Jimmie Keenan, WTC's chief of staff. She anticipates Soldiers at WTUs slated for closure will have transitioned by the effective date of Oct. 1. If not, commanders have been instructed to keep WTUs operating until the last Soldier successfully transitions. New warriors in transition will be assigned to other WTUs.
Presently Fort Leavenworth has 20 warriors in transition; Redstone Arsenal has 10 and Fort Rucker supports two WTs.
The closures help the Army align enduring WTUs to Army hospitals and clinics with more robust capability.
"In all three of those (closing) locations we do not have a military bedded facility ... if a Soldier in that WTU required hospitalization or more complex medical specialty care, they had to go out on the TRICARE network," Keenan said. "This is one reason why Soldiers with more complex issues have not been assigned to those locations, which is why historically at those locations the population numbers have been low."
Keenan said the Army could provide better services by reassigning incoming Soldiers to the larger WTUs and closing those that can't fully support complex cases.
In June 2007 when the WTUs first stood up, the Army's marching orders directed that basically any injured Soldier who could benefit from the WTUs should be moved there. While that enabled deploying units to replace medically non-deployable Soldiers, the large number of routine cases detracted from the care of more serious cases, and diluted the case management resources of the WTUs, according to Keenan.
"For those Soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury that had more complex cases, resources were being pulled away by the Soldier who really didn't have that requirement for complex case management and greater than six months rehabilitative care," Keenan said. "Criteria for admission to a WTU was changed in July 2008, so now a WTU Soldier must require complex case management and greater than six months of rehabilitative care... and they must meet both those criteria."
Only about 11 percent of the total WT population is made up of Soldiers suffering from battle injuries, where "metal entered the body," Keenan said. Another 25 percent is made up of disease or other non-battle injuries who are evacuated from theater, including Soldiers with PTSD, or who had heart attacks or behavioral health issues. The remainder became ill or injured at their home station or had medical issues identified during the mobilization or demobilization process.
The WTC is realigning spaces and staff at WTUs to coincide with the current warrior population. For example, the WTU at Fort Campbell, Ky., was initially designed to support 1,000 WTs, but as Keenan points out, Campbell never saw more than 508 WTs, so the WTC reduced the slots to 800. At Fort Stewart, the WTU was originally staffed for 800, but never saw more than 406 WTs, so now the slots have been reduced to 600.
"There are some other locations that have lower numbers of population, but at this point we're not going to look at closing them," Keenan said. "We're going to continue to monitor them to see if the population grows or continues to decrease and then we'll re-evaluate every 90 days."
Reduction in spaces also means the numbers of caretakers to WTs will decline, but the ratio will remain the same.
The ratio of primary care managers (physicians), nurse case managers and squad leaders to WTU Soldiers will remain at its current ratio of 1 to 200, 1 to 20 and 1 to 10 respectively at the WTUs, Keenan said.
"We'll keep the same ratio, but we will not keep the same number of cadre," said Keenan. "If I don't have Soldiers for the squad leaders to take care of, then we are allowing the senior mission commanders on a case-by-case basis to return that Soldier back to a unit where he can work in his MOS to support the rest of the Army."