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Terror War Highlights Need for Military Medical Transformation

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2005 – While peak combat readiness is a persistent goal of America's armed forces, much less has been made of the state of the military's medical readiness, especially with regard to support systems and processes for returning National Guard and Reserve personnel wounded in the global war on terror.

In a system designed primarily for regular active duty forces, many guardsmen and reservists are being forced to overcome bureaucratic hurdles unique to their Reserve status, but as one Special Forces soldier wounded in Operation Enduring Freedom put it, "Bullets don't discriminate between active duty and Reserve components, and neither should the Army."

In remarks Feb. 17 to the House Committee on Government Reform, Sgt. 1st Class John Allen detailed his frustration with the Army's Active Duty Medical Extension program, a process he described as "apparently never intended to serve the reserve component forces during a time of war."

According to ADME regulations, which control the extension of active duty status necessary to secure medical treatment, Allen said, he was essentially forced to go off active duty orders every three months and apply for new orders.

That situation, he said, contributed to a multitude of problems for him and his family, including no pay, no access to a base, no family medical coverage, and the cancellation of all scheduled medical appointments, which significantly prolonged his treatment and recovery and his return to civilian life.

A member the Army's 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces (Airborne), Allen suffered multiple injuries to his legs, neck, back, hearing, and vision, as well as traumatic brain injury, in a helicopter accident and grenade blast in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002.

Many problems experienced by Allen and others are the result of the unprecedented and sustained mobilization of National Guard and Reserve forces since the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, about 475,000 members of the reserve components have been mobilized to fight the terrorist threat, 79 percent of them Army.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Ellen Embry, who testified before the same committee, said "This unprecedented and sustained mobilization stressed vital service and departmental support systems" creating significant medical processing and management challenges.

However, she said, "The department is firmly committed to protecting the health of our active and reserve component members -- before deployment, while they are deployed, and upon their return."

Despite his ordeal, which he said at times caused him to question his own sanity, Allen said he was proud of his 14 years of service as a soldier in the Army Reserve. "I was asked to volunteer to extend my deployment in Afghanistan, and I did," he said. "If medically allowed to do so, I would rejoin my brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Malaysia and elsewhere. It was, and continues to be, well worth every personal sacrifice.

"My injuries pale by comparison to those who have lost loved ones, or a limb, or have been taken hostage by people who have no value for human life or civilized society," he said.

His sole purpose for testifying, Allen said, was "to share my experience in the hope that it might shape the experience of others in the future," particularly "my fellow disabled National Guard and Reserve members, my Army, my commander in chief and my beloved Special Forces."

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