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Congress Probes Report That Soldiers ‘Medically Unfit For Battle’ Are Being Sent To Iraq

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"Congress Probes Report That Soldiers ‘Medically Unfit For Battle’ Are Being Sent To Iraq"

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Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin, who first revealed the squalor at Walter Reed hospital two years ago, this week reported that injured U.S. soldiers are being dispatched back to Iraq:

As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

Yesterday, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Military Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Vic Snyder (D-AR) requested an immediate review of this report in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.

Also yesterday, Benjamin appeared on Hardball, one of the few major media outlets to cover the scoop. Benjamin noted that the Army does not dispute the central claim of his report. “When I interviewed the brigade commander here, he is not disputing that he is sending people back to Iraq with some of these problems. What he’s saying is that I’ll put them behind a desk and they’ll be safe,” Benjamin said. “The soldiers frankly just don’t buy it. I mean, they’ve been to Iraq before and there’s just not that many safe places.” Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/03/vetsmsn.320.240.flv]

Benjamin appeared with Army Sgr. Ronald Jenkins, who was ordered to Iraq despite having spinal fusion surgery that made it extremely difficult for him to wear body armor. Jenkins admitted he was “concerned about reprisal” for speaking out, but said, “this is about taking care of soldiers. And, you know, this is what I’ve done my whole career…and a lot of soldiers, like I said, they can’t speak out.” Jenkins said that since the story was published, he was informed he was no longer being sent to Iraq.

Transcript:

BARNICLE: Mark, briefly, what’s the story?

BENJAMIN: Well, there are two questions that my reporting, I think, uncovered down in Fort Benning. One is, should we be sending injured troops to Iraq, some who are so hurt that they can’t wear their body armor? The second is, if we’re going to make that decision to send people to Iraq — you know, people who can’t wear their body armor — what kind of review — can they, can we just have them walk into a room and take a quick look at them and have a conversation with them and decide that in fact they are fit for duty, or should they have some sort of, you know, serious medical review, exams, x-rays, that kind of thing?

BARNICLE: Sergeant Jenkins, did you have a medical review? You’re not going to Iraq, right?

JENKINS: No, I’ve been informed I’m not going now. I was there in a meeting we had with some of the soldiers from my brigade on 15 February. I was brought in. I sat down with my brigade surgeon and my division surgeon. They welcomed me into the room and he looked at a few things on the screen as far as my military medical records. As far as what they had on the screen — they actually didn’t have my medical records, my medical records were at the military correspondence being copied. He made a statement to the fact that the Army — more than likely, I should have been Rear D, which, Read D is someone who stays in the rear while they deploy. Then he also stated the fact that I could be deployed to a place where I don’t have to wear any gear, and also in the same conversation, he told me that if a mortar round hit, that I wouldn’t have time to grab the kevlar anyway, which, I didn’t really find the humor in that.

BARNICLE: So, sergeant, you are career Army, correct?

JENKINS: Correct. 21 years.

BARNICLE: Twenty-one years in the service. And what’s your medical issue?

JENKINS: My medical issue is I had a spinal surgery where I had a spinal fusion. I had four of my — my c-3 through c-6 vertebrae were removed in the back and I have titanium rods and screws in my neck now, my neck and upper back.

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BARNICLE: Sergeant, were you afraid to speak on the record? You spoke on the record to Mark. Were you afraid of any lash back at you?

JENKINS: Well, I’m concerned about reprisal. But, you know, this is something that — this is about taking care of soldiers. And, you know, this is what I’ve done my whole career. And for me to go in there and have this happen to me, and my profile was adjusted and changed and that was not the correct thing to do. So, yeah, I had a big problem with that, and a lot of soldiers, like I said, they can’t speak out. And I’m not saying I’m the advocate for this. Like I said, I was just a guy that was approached. I had a situation that occurred and I spoke out about it. And yeah, yeah, I do have concerns though.

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BENJAMIN: And I just wanted to add, the Army is not disputing — when I interviewed the brigade commander here, he is not disputing that he is sending people back to Iraq with some of these problems. What he’s saying is that I’ll put them behind a desk and they’ll be safe. The soldiers frankly just don’t buy it. I mean, they’ve been to Iraq before and there’s just not that many safe places. The only thing that’s under debate is, when the command brought 75 soldiers to the troop medical clinic on February 15, lined them up in a line and brought them into a room — these are people that doctors had previously, in some cases, said, you can’t go to Iraq — and changed that decision, was that okay? That’s the only dispute that remains in this particular story that I’m aware of.

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