Paragraphs three through five read: “It did not work. He was prescribed a
list of medications for anxiety, nightmares, depression, and headaches
that made him feel listless and disoriented.”
“His weekly session with a nurse case manager seemed inadequate to him.
And noncommissioned officers soldiers supervising the unit
harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules.”
“Last August, Crawford attempted suicide with a bottle of whiskey and
painkillers. By the end of last year, he was begging to get out of the unit.”
Some soldiers find no relief in transition units
Army defends efforts to help returning troops
By James Dao and Dan Frosch
New York Times / April 25, 2010
COLORADO SPRINGS A year ago, Specialist Michael Crawford wanted
nothing more than to get into Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion, a
special unit created to provide closely managed care for soldiers with
physical wounds and severe psychological trauma.
A strapping Army sniper who once brimmed with confidence, he had returned
emotionally broken from Iraq, where he suffered two concussions from
roadside bombs and watched several platoon mates burn to death. The transition
unit at Fort Carson seemed the surest way to keep suicidal thoughts at bay,
his mother thought.
It did not work. He was prescribed a list of medications for anxiety,
nightmares, depression, and headaches that made him feel listless and
His weekly session with a nurse case manager seemed inadequate to him. And
noncommissioned officers soldiers supervising the unit
harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules.
Last August, Crawford attempted suicide with a bottle of whiskey and
painkillers. By the end of last year, he was begging to get out of the unit.
“It is just a dark place,’’ said the soldier, who is waiting to be
medically discharged from the Army. “Being in the WTU is worse than being in Iraq.
Created in the aftermath of the scandal in 2007 over shortcomings at
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Warrior Transition Units were intended to be
sheltering way stations where injured soldiers could recuperate and return to
duty or gently process out of the Army. There are about 7,200 soldiers at
32 transition units across the Army, with about 465 soldiers at Fort Carson’
But interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care
professionals from Fort Carson’s unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest
that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries.
For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged
men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription
pills, and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers. Because of their
wounds, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are particularly vulnerable to
depression and addiction, but many soldiers from Fort Carson’s unit say their
treatment there has made their suffering worse.
Some soldiers in the unit, and their families, described long hours alone
in their rooms, or in homes off the base, aimlessly drinking or playing
“In combat, you rely on people and you come out of it feeling good about
everything,’’ said a specialist in the unit. “Here, you’re just floating.
You’re not doing much. You feel worthless.’’
At Fort Carson, many soldiers complained that doctors prescribed drugs too
readily. As a result, some soldiers have become addicted to their
medications or have turned to heroin. Medications are so abundant that some
soldiers in the unit openly deal, buy, or swap prescription pills.
Heavy use of psychotropic drugs and narcotics makes it difficult to
exercise, wake for morning formation, and attend classes, soldiers and health
care professionals said. Yet noncommissioned officers discipline soldiers who
fail to complete those tasks, sometimes over the objections of nurses and
At least four soldiers in the Fort Carson unit have committed suicide
since 2007, the most of any transition unit as of February, according to the
Senior officers in the Army’s Warrior Transition Command declined to
discuss specific soldiers. But they said Army surveys showed that most soldiers
treated in transition units since 2007, more than 50,000 people, had liked
Those senior officers acknowledged that addiction to medications was a
problem, but denied that Army doctors relied too heavily on drugs. And they
strongly defended disciplining wounded soldiers when they violated rules.
Punishment is meted out judiciously, they said, mainly to ensure that soldiers
stick to treatment plans and stay safe.
“These guys are still soldiers, and we want to treat them like soldiers,’’
said Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Grantham, commander of the Warrior
Transition Battalion at Fort Carson.
The colonel offered another explanation for complaints. Many soldiers, he
said, struggle because they would rather be with regular, deployable units.
In some cases, he said, they feel ashamed of needing treatment.
“Some come to us with an identity crisis,’’ he said. “They don’t want to
be seen as part of the WTU. But we want them to identify with a purpose
and give them a mission.’’
Sergeant John Conant, a 15-year Army veteran, returned from his second
tour of Iraq in 2007 a changed man, according to his wife. Angry and sullen,
he reported to the transition unit at Fort Carson, where he was prescribed
at least six medications a day for sleeping disorders, pain, and anxiety,
keeping a detailed checklist in his pocket to remind him of his dosages.
The medications disoriented him, Delphina Conant said, and he would often
wander the house late at night before curling up on the floor and falling
asleep. Then in April 2008, after taking morphine and Ambien, the sleeping
pill, he died in his sleep. A coroner ruled that his death was from natural
causes. He was 36.
Delphina Conant said she felt her husband never received meaningful
therapy at the transition unit, where he had become increasingly frustrated and
was knocked down a rank because of discipline problems. “They didn’t want
to do anything but give him medication,’’ she said.
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.