SC loses Army unit for wounded, Fort Bragg to gain

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 20, 2014

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (AP) — The Army is closing a medical unit at South Carolina’s Fort Jackson that is caring for 36 wounded soldiers. It is also adding to a similar group at Fort Bragg in North Carolina that is caring for nearly 300 wounded servicemen and women.
The changes are part of a national, service-wide reorganization brought on by the wars winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fact that fewer wounded soldiers are returning home from those battlefields, Army officials say.
The commander in charge of the medical unit at Fort Jackson says its “Warrior Transition Unit” is being inactivated, but the installation’s care for its wounded will continue.
“Soldiers and their families will remain at the center of our focus and will continue to receive quality care and transition assistance,” Col. Mark Higdon said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Higdon heads Fort Jackson’s 25-bed Moncrief Army Medical Center, which oversees the closing unit.
The Army announced in Washington earlier this month that five of its current 29 Warrior Transition Units will be closed by the end of September. Besides Fort Jackson’s, they are at Fort Irwin, Calif.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.; and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Several of the units had as few as 10 soldiers, official said.
“The five identified WTUs’ inactivation is a reflection of the decline in the population of these units across the Army. And realigning our resources will allow us to improve care and the transition of all assigned Soldiers at Fort Jackson’s WTU,” Higdon said.
The transition units were set up in 2007 in the wake of media reports about poor conditions at what was then Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Those reports highlighted shoddy housing provided for the wounded and the bureaucratic delays they face in being treated, all of which sparked the Army to create an entire command dedicated to improving the well-being of wounded soldiers.
The wounded warrior units are designed to cater to soldiers who needed at least six months of long-term medical care and rehabilitation before returning to their home units or leaving the service and entering civilian life.
Andre Butler, the spokesman at Moncrief, said in a recent interview that none of the Jackson soldiers should have to move to a different post in order to accommodate the changes. The unit is now treating 12 active duty soldiers, 17 Army Reserve soldiers and seven members of the Army National Guard, he said.
At its largest state, Butler said the Fort Jackson unit cared for 140 soldiers at one point in 2013.
In contrast, there are 291 soldiers currently assigned to the Fort Bragg unit, which is called the Warrior Transition Battalion, and is staying open, an Army spokeswoman said.
Womack Army Medical Center spokeswoman Shannon Lynch said in a telephone interview that Fort Bragg will be getting a new “community care” unit, but local officials don’t know all the details at this point.
“We don’t know exactly how that will be accomplished at this point,” Lynch said.
Lynch said Fort Bragg’s Warrior Transition Battalion had around 400 soldiers assigned to it when it was in its largest state.
In Washington, Army officials said the placement of the community care units near existing warrior care units is supposed to streamline administrative support and allow commanders to use existing base support systems. Overall, the Army said, about 58,000 troops were in the transition units since 2007 and about 28,000 were able to get back in uniform.