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Wounded Warriors’ care still a battle

– The dark effects of 10 years of warfare on injured fighters – drugs, anger, fear, frustration – are on display in a report on the Marine Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., released by the Government Accountability Office.

As the report notes, some Americans are even willing to take advantage of those who have sacrificed and suffered in the name of defending the homeland.

The culprits range from illegal-drug dealers to some so-called charitable groups that, as the report politely put it, “sometimes do not have the best interests of Warriors at heart.” The report mentioned that a few unnamed agencies “had expressed disappointment that TBI – traumatic brain injury – patients did not ‘look the part.’ ”

Many times, “visiting non-military organizations wanted to see a ‘poster child’ of a wounded Marine and they would offer donations for the selected personnel and not the unit as a whole,” the battalion chaplain told the GAO.

Some organizations would call in “looking for ‘visibly wounded’ Marines (burn victims, amputees) to participate in their events.” Some Marines complained to the GAO about “the ‘petting zoo’ environment created when certain non-profit agencies came to visit.”

The Marine Wounded Warrior program began in April 2007, after the neglect scandal at what was then the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is meant to coordinate medical and non-medical care for ailing and injured Marines, and to help get them back to active duty or help them make the transition to civilian life.

Battalions were established at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and at Camp Pendleton in California.

Overall, the GAO found that the management and staff at the battalion and Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune “were fully dedicated to providing the best available care and services.” But they faced “significant challenges.”

There was no real control of medication distributed by military and civilian providers, so combating drug abuse became a top priority. That included establishing regular and surprise drug screenings.

There was a sense that the rules on drug abuse were more lenient for combat-wounded Marines and Purple Heart recipients than for others, which set a “bad tone” within the barracks. One Warrior said he thought nothing was done to those caught with drugs “because no one wanted to be the guy that kicked out a Marine for drugs.”

Another issue for the wounded Marines was the amount of time spent waiting for decisions about their futures. The disability evaluation system involves a medical evaluation board, a physical evaluation board, disability determinations, an appeals process and a final disposition. The process can take as long as two years.

Of 696 Marines who passed through the Camp Lejeune battalion between April 2007 and September 2010, only 36 returned to active duty.

Another 324 were discharged to civilian life; six died; three were forced out of the service; eight reservists returned to their units, and two reservists were discharged. Another 317 were still in transition.

As the report quotes one Warrior: “Everyone seems so depressed, angry and stressed, and they just want to get out of here.”