Secretary of the Army Pete Geren today testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that injured soldiers have "experienced poor facilities, leadership challenges, and an entrenched bureaucracy" when seeking medical care. "However, the improvements we will discuss today go well beyond addressing the shortcomings" that were highly publicized in the wake of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center treatment scandal last year, he added.
Last November, the Defense Department put in place a Disability Evaluation System pilot test designed to provide a single medical examination and a single disability rating for wounded soldiers, with the goal of reducing "by half" the time required to transition service members to veteran status and allow them to receive veterans' benefits and compensation. The previous system, Geren said, was cumbersome and did not allow an increasing number of patients to move through the system.
"This put a burden on Walter Reed that it was not prepared to handle," he added.
Geren explained that one of the key changes in Army medical care is to assign one "squad leader" for every 12 wounded soldiers, one "primary care" manager for every 200 soldiers, and "one nurse case manager for every 18 to 36 soldiers depending on the medical complexity of the unit." Each unit, he added, will also have "a dedicated ombudsman who reaches out to soldiers and families as an extra resource and problem solver."
The Pentagon is also establishing soldier and family assistance centers at treatment facilities to be "one-stop shops" where soldiers and families can get information and help with services including entitlements, benefits, and finances. The DOD has also initiated a post-traumatic stress disorder education program for all soldiers, he said.
The program is designed to educate "but also to erase the stigma associated with these injuries." By this July, every soldier will receive a baseline cognitive test before deployment, Geren said, adding that the military has developed an experimental helmet sensor to record impacts to the head. There are now 1,145 of them in use in combat zones.
Related story: How the war in Iraq is changing the American soldier