Ft. Carson sent ailing GIs to meet deployment goals
The Denver Post
By Erin Emery
January 17, 2008

COLORADO SPRINGS — Fort Carson sent soldiers who were not medically fit to war zones last month to meet "deployable strength" goals, according to e-mails obtained by The Denver Post.

One e-mail, written Jan. 3 by the surgeon for Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, says: "We have been having issues reaching deployable strength, and thus have been taking along some borderline soldiers who we would otherwise have left behind for continued treatment."

Capt. Scot Tebo's e-mail was, in part, a reference to Master Sgt. Denny Nelson, a 19-year Army veteran, who was sent overseas last month despite doctors' orders that he not run, jump or carry more than 20 pounds for three months because of a severe foot injury.

Nelson took the medical report to the Soldier Readiness Process, or SRP, site on Fort Carson, where health-care professionals recommended Nelson stay home.

The soldier, who has a Bronze Star and is a member of the Mountain Post's Audie Murphy Chapter, was sent to Kuwait on Dec. 29.

Nelson says he was one of at least 52 soldiers deployed who should not have been, and a veterans group says the military is endangering soldiers to meet its goals.

But Fort Carson officials say they do not believe unfit soldiers have been sent to the Middle East and say there is no repercussion for not meeting goals. They say the battalion commander has the final decision as to who is deployed.

On Jan. 5, a physician in Kuwait sent a strongly worded e-mail to Tebo urging him to send Nelson back to the U.S.

"This soldier should NOT have even left CONUS (the United States). . . . In his current state, he is not full mission capable and in his current condition is a risk to further injury to himself, others and his unit," said the physician, Maj. Thomas Schymanski.

Nelson, 38, had fractured his leg and destroyed the tendons that hold the bones in his feet together while jumping on his daughter's trampoline.

He arrived back at Fort Carson on Sunday.

"I just want to make sure these soldiers get back safe. I got back, and the only reason I got back safe is because I'm an E-8 (master sergeant). If I was a private or a specialist, I guarantee you, I'd be in Iraq," he said. "If nothing comes out of this other than those soldiers coming back home before one of them gets killed, then I can sleep at night. But God forbid if something happens, and I didn't do anything . . . ."

Nelson went through Fort Carson's Soldier Readiness Process, a clearinghouse where legal, medical and financial records are examined, and it was recommended that he stay home.

No number on "no go's"

Fort Carson could not say Wednesday how many soldiers were considered "no-go's" by medical professionals at the SRP site but were ultimately sent overseas.

"The SRP, what they do is they screen soldiers for deployment, . . . and if a soldier is identified as a no-go in the SRP site, then the soldier is seen by a specialist," said Maj. Harvinder Singh, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's rear detachment commander.

Nelson said he was not seen by a specialist or any medical professional after the SRP site identified him as a no-go.

Nelson was to serve as a liaison officer and assist soldiers in transitioning from Kuwait to Iraq.

Singh said he does not believe medically unfit soldiers have been deployed to Iraq. He said soldiers with medical issues are only sent to theater if there is a light-duty job for them and medical services are available in theater. He said 3,500 of the brigade's 3,700 soldiers were deployed. The others probably stayed home because medical services could not be found for them in theater.

Goals for commanders

Dee McNutt, spokeswoman for Fort Carson, said she knew of no Army policy that defined "deployable strength."

"Every commander has a goal, and you try to achieve that goal, . . . but there is no repercussion if you don't hit that goal," Singh said.

Col. James Terrio, deputy commander for clinical services at Evans Army Community Hospital, said, "The issue with who you take, it is the commander's decision." A commander, he said, is familiar with the level of danger and the needs of the unit. A job in Kuwait, for instance, would not require a soldier to wear Kevlar, and a job as a liaison officer would not require running or walking.

Of the 1.6 million service members who have served in Iraq, 34 percent have served two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said: "The military must follow existing law and examine our soldiers before they deploy to the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones. And the military must stop sending soldiers with physical or psychological conditions that require medical treatment into the war zones because this endangers the soldier, the unit and the mission."

Nelson said units are being deployed so rapidly, with 15 months in theater and 12 months off, that "they're having trouble getting them healthy."

Nelson said that when he arrived at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, he was told he would be going to Iraq sooner than he thought.

"The agreement was that I was going to be in Kuwait for four or five months, do physical therapy, and then when I'm healthy, I go forward to Iraq," Nelson said. "I'm not going to Iraq not being able to wear any of my gear, not carry a weapon. I become a liability to everybody around me because if they get mortared, they're going to have to look out for me because obviously, I can't run. I can't look out for myself. Now I've got soldiers worrying about my welfare, instead of their own."

Nelson said there were two soldiers deployed with a torn rotator cuff. Another soldier was sent overseas who had mental-health issues, and another suffered from nerve damage to his groin area and had been taking morphine for seven months. When that soldier went to a clinic in Iraq to ask for more pain medication, medical professionals said he could not have it and he was sent home, according to Nelson.

Instead of going to Iraq, he went to another Kuwait post, Camp Arifjan.

Nelson said he was told by superiors that he would be in charge of 52 soldiers who were receiving medical treatment.

"I expected to find a whole bunch of people, but when I got there, they were all gone. They were already all in Iraq," Nelson said.

Those soldiers would have received medical treatment in Iraq, said Singh.

Fort Carson was at the heart of a congressional investigation last year after reports revealed soldiers were not receiving quality medical care after returning from Iraq. Some soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder said they were punished, rather than treated, or thrown out of the Army for "personality" problems.

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