Members of the House Armed Services Committee demanded answers from the U.S. Army Tuesday for allegations uncovered by NBC 5 Investigates that commanders of Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) mistreated hundreds of injured soldiers they were supposed to caring for during their recovery.
Under questioning at an Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee hearing in Washington D.C., Army leaders said their own investigation also confirmed mistreatment of injured soldiers at WTUs in Texas.
During Tuesday’s hearing, some members of Congress pressed the Army for answers about NBC 5’s Investigation, Injured heroes, Broken Promises.
Col. Chris Toner, Commander of the Army’s Warrior Transition Units, said NBC5’s reporting prompted the Army to conduct in-depth inspections of three WTUs in Texas at Fort Hood, Fort Bliss and Fort Sam Houston.
“The Sgt. Major and I went down to Texas and visited each of the three WTU's there, because I personally wanted to get an assessment of whether we had issues.” said Toner.
In November, NBC 5 Investigates partnered with The Dallas Morning News for a six-month investigation to uncover hundreds of complaints from injured soldiers who said commanders harassed, belittled them and ordered them to do things that made their conditions worse.
Tuesday, Toner said his own review confirmed mistreatment over a four-year period.
InvestigativeTexas Congressman Frustrated by WTU Complaints
Congressman Beto O’Rourke, from El Paso, pressed for answers about what went wrong at Fort Bliss. Toner responded that between 2009 and 2013, “there were challenges at Fort Bliss, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Toner said the Army has responded, changing the way it selects unit leaders and improving its training program.
NBC 5 Investigates has also learned, just days after the first reports aired, the Army shut down all WTUs nationwide for a day of training focused on better treatment for the injured.
“I’m confident that the program and policies and procedures that are in place now have the program going in the right direction,” said Toner.
But Tuesday, no member of Congress asked Toner about more recent 2014 complaints that NBC 5 reviewed or why the same types of complaints have come up repeatedly at multiple WTU locations.
Meanwhile, NBC 5 Investigates has obtained a copy of the Army’s response to Sen. John Cornyn that addresses the issues raised by NBC 5 and The Dallas Morning News reports. Army Secretary, John McHugh writes, “While the Army has come a long way in providing care and assistance to our soldiers, we can always do better.” His entire response can be read below.
After Tuesday’s hearing the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) issued a statement saying, “We are pleased to see that the Army and other Services take wounded warrior care serious and are taking ownership of problems at their WTUs. We encourage Congress to continue to exercise their oversight responsibilities over wounded warrior care, and we urge them to consider other points of view other than the governments. Taking care of wounded warriors is a zero-sum game, Congress, and the Services need to make it clear that mistreating Service member is unacceptable. We believe there needs to be a thorough and comprehensive review of all 25 WTUs this year.”