Army medical community addressing non-deployable soldier issue 

10/11/2011 1:00 PM 

Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, spoke on medical issues for non-deployable soldiers

The Army must come to terms with an increasing number of ill, combat-wounded or injured soldiers who are not fit for deployment, the service’s chief medical officer said at an Oct. 10 symposium during the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington. 

After more than 10 years of conflict, and in anticipation of potentially lower strength levels, “Every soldier added to the pool of non-ready soldiers taps into the pool of soldiers who are,” said Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general and commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command.

“Over the course of the next several years, if we don’t get our arms around the [medically] non-deployable population, we’re going to have significant problems manning our units,” said Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Brian Lein, the command surgeon for U.S. Forces Command (FORSCOM).

The Army medical community is tackling the problem by streamlining a cumbersome bureaucracy that previously had relied upon approaches that varied greatly by command, and were burdened by paper records that are easily lost, Schoomaker said. In its place is a new electronic system, which allows brigade commanders, medical personnel, first sergeants, and anyone else with a need to know, to see them.

The plan entails involvement with FORSCOM and all levels of the Army, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Schoomaker said.

“We’re tracking soldiers now every month,” Lein said. “Subordinate commanders have to be able to articulate their non-deployable-status soldiers to us. They’ve got to talk about medical readiness, dental readiness, and how they are tracking those soldiers.” 

Gone is the time when the Army waited until 45 days before deployment dates before requiring updated deployment status reports, only to find out that 30 percent of the soldiers in a given unit had some issue that needed attention, Lein said.

“Once they are injured, ill, or combat-wounded,” Schoomaker said, Army Medical Command staff would do whatever is necessary to restore them to duty.

“We have coalesced all the efforts in our strategy into a campaign plan to improve soldier readiness,” Schoomaker said. “The goal is to conserve the fighting strength [of the Army].”

One key focus point centers upon changing the way soldiers take care of themselves, said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Richard Stone, the acting deputy Army surgeon general. In that regard, the Army medical community wants to shift the emphasis of its services to that of injury prevention, rather than response to injury.

“We have to treat the population of 18- to 24-year-olds [who join the Army] as the tactical athletes they are,” Stone said.

For instance, Stone said, much more could be done to reduce incidents of muscular-skeletal injuries, which account for one million visits to military treatment facilities each year.

“Testing can be done to identify soldiers who may sustain muscular-skeletal injuries,” Stone said.

By screening core strength, arch height, leaping ability, and other factors, small medical teams can predict how many members of a unit will sustain such injuries, Stone said. With proper mitigating techniques, such as physical therapy and healthier diets, such injuries may not have to happen at all, he said.