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Sick, wounded reservists complain about treatment

Living conditions at Fort Stewart called 'substandard'

WASHINGTON (CNN) --Wounded and injured soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia, some of whom served in Iraq, are sometimes forced to wait months for follow-up treatment, according to several Army reservists.

CNN confirms that soldiers are complaining of a lack of timely medical care and "substandard" living conditions, as first reported by UPI investigations editor Mark Benjamin after a visit to the U.S. Army base.

Veterans' advocate Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, spent several days with Benjamin at Fort Stewart. The center is "a resource for information, support, and referrals for all those concerned with the complexities of Persian Gulf War issues, especially Gulf War illnesses and those held prisoner or missing in action," according to a statement on its Web site.

Robinson told CNN he was "so concerned about what I saw that I called the House Veterans Affairs Committee as soon as I got home."

A Fort Stewart spokesman took issue with the depiction, calling the conditions "Spartan" and "austere," but "safe."

"I don't think it's fair to call it substandard," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named. "There's no squalor in the military barracks. Is it hot? Absolutely."

He added that some barracks are air conditioned; others are not.

Army to assess charges

Still, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon told CNN on Sunday that it is sending a team to Fort Stewart on Monday to assess the situation.

"When you're talking about the care of wounded soldiers, it is something the Army takes seriously. The Army will check it out," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

CNN spoke by telephone to several Army Reserve soldiers who are unhappy about their medical treatment and living conditions at Fort Stewart. 1st Sgt. Gerry Mosley was delivering fuel to tanks in Iraq with the 296th Transportation Company in May when his team came under fire. He said he suffered injuries to his back, shoulders and knees after jumping for cover from mortar rounds.

He said he later aggravated those injuries in the course of performing his duties. He has been on "medical hold" at Fort Stewart since May, receiving what he describes as scant medical appointments and procedures.

Mosley, who pays $300 per month to live outside the medical barracks, said 60-80 sick and wounded soldiers live in open-bay barracks with concrete floors, cinder block walls, bunk beds and sparse surroundings. The partially exposed toilets and a communal shower are "a ways" away outside of barracks, Mosley said, and soldiers on crutches -- including one with a crushed foot -- must "limp their way through sandy ground" to those facilities.

"It's OK for training," he told CNN, "but not for sick people."

The Fort Stewart spokesman said there were only a handful of wounded soldiers in the "medical hold" unit. He said he did not have an exact figure.

"Medical hold" describes soldiers who are deemed too sick to serve. During their treatment, a decision is made on whether they will be able to serve again, and the Army then decides what percentage of benefits they are entitled to should they be dismissed from service.

Mosley complained that the process is taking months to resolve, leaving soldiers and their families in "medical limbo." He said if he had known his situation "would come down to this," he would not have enlisted.

Spokesman: 'Army has responsibility'

The Army spokesman said he did not know what living conditions are like for sick and wounded soldiers and would wait for the assessment team's report. He insisted that the "Army has responsibility to guardsmen, reservists and active duty [soldiers]."

Another soldier who recently left Fort Stewart described the conditions to CNN as "substandard." Another, a sergeant who said she was afraid to give her name, complained to CNN of a general fear among sick Fort Stewart soldiers to speak to the media.

"Here we all were overseas, ready to get ourselves killed in order to bring democracy to these countries, and we get home and we don't even have freedom of speech anymore," she said. She said she has been on medical hold since May after she became ill while serving in Kuwait.

The soldiers allege that active-duty soldiers are subjected to "much better conditions," receiving more timely care in better surroundings, often seeing military doctors in their hometowns while they convalesce near their families.

The Army spokesman said active-duty personnel "do not have preferential treatment over reservists and guardsmen. There is none."

From CNN producers Laurie Ure and Linda Saether

 
 
 
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