Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis has problems similar to some of those at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., leaders of the activist group Operation Homefront say.
Room conditions, caseworker layoffs and delays for injured soldiers moving from military care to the Department of Veterans Affairs were among the complaints raised by Meredith Leyva, founder of the group and wife of an active duty Navy officer, in an interview Monday with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Officials at Fort Lewis, a sprawling post south of Tacoma, referred the newspaper’s questions to Madigan, and hospital officials did not return calls from the newspaper Monday.
Leyva’s comments followed congressional hearings Monday on Walter Reed and removal of a general and the secretary of the Army by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Operation Homefront, which does volunteer work daily at Madigan and provided emergency aid to 1,600 wounded troops nationwide last year, has no qualms with the medical care or professionals at Madigan, she said.
“The health care at Madigan is phenomenal, the best in its class,” Leyva said. “It’s the casework we are concerned about.”
He said the group had found problems “at every military medical facility in the country” were being worsened by long delays and drastic change in the caseworker program, including the layoff of two caseworkers at Madigan, she said.
Operation Homefront volunteers also reported dilapidated rooms with asbestos and lead that is only now being removed, but it was not clear Monday whether those rooms were in the main operation, which is less than 15 years old, or an older area which is only partly in use.
In 1999 the main building was scored a perfect 100 by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care, according to Army information.
An average of a year and a half for disability claims to be processed before injured military personnel are discharged for civilian treatment by the VA is too long, especially under a Defense Department directive setting the maximum acceptable stay at 120 days, Leyva said.
“That means service members, many with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, are on hold for 18 months where they can’t pay the bills,” she said.
Lacking sufficient caseworkers to help with the process, injured soldiers often settle for lower disability ratings, which mean lower disability payments, to escape from treatment limbo, she said.
“We are still livid about that,” said Janice Buckley, Washington state chapter president of Operation Homefront.
“In some situations of PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, you can’t just give the soldiers a list” of places to go and needs to be filled, Buckley said. “You have to hand-carry it for them.”
Skip Dreps, government liaison for the Northwest Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said his last count showed 62 active-duty and 179 National Guard or Reserve soldiers in medical hold at Madigan, including who had been waiting 17 months and 10 months, respectively.
Active-duty wounded soldiers are sent to the spinal cord injury clinic at the VA Puget Sound Medical Center in Seattle and their average stay has been about nine months, Dreps said.
“When you compile (the case) for a spinal cord injury, the book is pretty well written,” he said.