Senators' staffers probe soldiers' care
Some soldiers said they were not allowed to get appointments with Army doctors.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Fort Carson's treatment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder after combat in Iraq is under the scrutiny of congressional staff members this week.
Three U.S. senators -- Barack Obama, D-Ill., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Kit Bond, R-Mo. -- sent staff members to the Army post for the fact-finding mission Thursday and today.
The three senators sought the probe after reports on National Public Radio in December and CBS News in July that some combat veterans were provided inadequate care or were even denied treatment for their complaints of PTSD symptoms.
Staff representing four Colorado congressional members -- Sens. Wayne Allard, a Republican, and Ken Salazar, a Democrat, and Reps. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and Doug Lamborn, a Republican -- also joined the briefings.
Fort Carson's top medical officials have insisted that their staff is not mistreating soldiers.
"We are seeing the soldiers, treating them well and providing the care they need," said Col. John Cho, a surgeon and commanding officer of Fort Carson's Evans Army Medical Center.
The visit includes briefings and interviews with Fort Carson medical officials and rank-and-file soldiers.
Combat experiences can trigger symptoms such as nightmares, paranoia, rage, isolation and other antisocial behavior.
Several Fort Carson soldiers complained that they were harassed by junior officers and noncommissioned officers after seeking doctor's appointments for mental and emotional problems after coming home from Iraq.
Some said they were denied permission to obtain appointments to see Army doctors for PTSD symptoms.
Others said they were threatened with disciplinary action, and some said they were given discharges for personality disorders or patterns of misconduct.
Certain discharges can leave soldiers ineligible for veterans medical care and other benefits.
Fort Carson had diagnosed 577 cases of PTSD in 2006 through early December and expected the number to surpass 600 for the year. That compares with only 32 cases in 2002, before the Iraq war began.
But some veterans advocates say that soldiers are not treated the same and fairness becomes an issue when some receive treatment while others are punished for the same disorders.
Problems with treating PTSD do not appear isolated to Fort Carson. Across the Army, PTSD has become a serious issue. More than 650,000 soldiers have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since the war on terrorism began in 2001.
The Army estimates that 20 percent to 30 percent of them will report symptoms such as sleep disorders or anxiety after combat, and 10 percent to 15 percent will eventually develop PTSD.
A recent Government Accountability Office report criticized the Army and other branches of the military for inconsistent diagnosis and treatment of PTSD.
The Department of Defense "cannot provide reasonable assurance that service members who need referrals for further mental health or combat operational stress reaction evaluations receive them," the report stated.