The U.S. Army created Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) for the purpose of providing unique support to wounded, injured or ill soldiers. The time spent at these WTUs will be the last weeks and final memories that these wounded warriors have of their service to our nation. But for too many, the experience is still one of neglect, disrespect and trauma.


Despite the specific design of these units intended to support soldiers, complaints have been surfacing for years from the men and women assigned to them. Numerous problems have been revealed and a multitude of these issues have been documented. The complaints of mistreatment range from cadre using profane language toward disabled service members to miscommunication regarding duty restrictions that soldiers are typically required to perform in relation to their medical conditions to many soldiers simply feeling disrespected.

I personally spent several days at Fort Belvoir's WTU just south of Washington, D.C. in 2012, when I conducted survey research and personal visits with wounded soldiers. I learned about a myriad of different issues facing our soldiers and two common themes became very clear after getting on-the-ground experience in these units.

First, the problems are system-wide across multiple WTUs. The survey input I received from soldiers spanned multiple units and multiple soldiers at each unit examined. Secondly, each soldier had a distinctly different set of medical circumstances and the experiences interacting with cadre of the WTU units were often incongruent with their unique needs.

The Army is organized and effectively run in accordance with uniform standards for the purpose of training and executing war. This has been working for centuries and makes sense within the context of training and warfighting.

It does not work well with disabled war veterans who are preparing to separate from the military and readjust while recovering with severe wounds and injuries.

The formal practice of unit formations and daily duty can often times agitate wounded soldiers and make their time in these units more difficult. For example, I spoke to one soldier who had been hit with shrapnel and wounded while serving in the Middle East, and who had a single request — that his command stop insisting he make morning formation while he was drowsy from medication, knowing that he would simply return to bed after the formation. His rationale was that the task was agitating his condition and after being severely wounded and placed on medication to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, he had "paid his dues."

NBC and the The Dallas Morning News recently released an investigative report on Nov. 22, 2014 titled "Injured Heroes, Broken Promises," which examined and reported on hundreds of cases of problems and complaints coming out of a WTU in Texas. Among the details of the four-part series was the case of the 2010 Army Soldier of the Year, Staff Sgt. Zach Filip, who explained his difficult journey at the WTU unit post-deployment. Filip explained that the verbal abuse at the WTU was psychologically painful and made his recovery more difficult. The frustrating irony was that these soldiers' experiences, as in Filip's case, were the exact opposite of what the Army expected from these units.

In response to the recent media coverage, the Army initially denied that there were issues with its WTUs or that allegations made by wounded soldiers were true. After continued coverage, the Army then admitted to problems at certain WTUs, but denied that there were systemic problems in the program. However, just nine days after the first Dallas story aired, the Army issued updated system-wide training and guidance for WTUs. This certainly begs the question: If there were no system-wide issues, why is there a need for a system-wide correction?

Regardless, reforms were merited and hopefully now they are underway. If the Army expects its soldiers to live up to to the Army values, the organization must do the same as an institution. Disrespecting and mistreating those who are left with some of the most catastrophic wounds of war is simply unacceptable.

Neiweem is a legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). He spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserve as a military police non-commissioned officer and served an honorable tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom detaining enemy prisoners of war and performing base security and customs in 2003 during the Iraq War.