WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 20, 2015) – There are 25 warrior transition units, or WTUs, in the United States and overseas. That number will decrease to 15 by Aug. 1, 2016, Col. Chris Toner said.
Toner, commander of the Army’s Warrior Transition Command and assistant surgeon general for Warrior Care and Transition, spoke April 17, during a Pentagon media roundtable.
The reason for the decline in WTUs is because combat casualties have come down substantially, he said. At its height during the 2008 and 2009 timeframe, there were 45 WTUs with more than 12,500 Soldiers in the program.
Today, there are 3,654 Soldiers in the WTUs, a number that is expected to level out to about 3,000 in the years ahead, absent war, Toner said. Those 3,000 are expected to primarily be sick or injured Soldiers, a normal number, considering the size of the Army, including the Reserve component.
Of the 3,654 Soldiers in the WTUs, about 48 percent are active duty and 52 percent are Guard and Reserve, he said.
Serving those Soldiers are 3,192 cadre and clinicians, so the ratio of Soldiers to caretakers is approaching 1:1. The Army is constantly assessing those numbers to get the balance right, he said.
Should conflict break out with large numbers of casualties, “God forbid,” he said, the existing 15 WTUs would be able to almost immediately handle 8,100 Soldiers total with the same high-level quality of care. There would be no problem in rapidly increasing the cadre, Toner said.
Due to uncertainty in the world right now, “it’s important to be able to reverse quickly if we have to,” he said.
To reverse quickly, Toner said the facilities for the 10 WTUs that are being stood down will be repurposed, but will continue to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, so they can rapidly revert to WTUs if necessary.
ADA compliance and other aspects needed for care in the facilities will be monitored and inspected periodically, he said. The U.S. Army Installation Management Command is involved in the process.
The decrease of WTUs will impact about 300 civilian jobs. In past WTU inactivations, the Army was successful at priority-placing employees at medical treatment facilities or elsewhere. Toner said the Army is working to make that happen again.
The decrease of WTUs from 25 to 15 will not affect existing community care units, or CCUs, of which there are 11. The CCUs launched in October and they have 577 Soldiers, of which 39 are active-duty and the rest Reserve-component.
The CCUs allow Soldiers to receive care in remote communities. A number of the Soldiers are terminally ill and it is important for them to be with their Families and within their communities, Toner said.
A huge success of the WTU program is the addition of ombudsmen to the program beginning in 2007, Toner said.
These are independent problem solvers “who don’t report to me,” he said. They have been successful at not only problem solving but handling complaints where Soldiers believed they were being treated unfairly.
Taking care of all Soldiers and veterans, particularly those who are sick, injured and wounded, is “a sacred trust,” Toner said.
Soldiers have taken advantage of the services offered by ombudsmen. In 2010, one of every 299 Soldiers presented an issue to his or her ombudsman. By 2015, that number had fallen to one in 553 Soldiers, he said.
Toner attributed the reduction in complaints to a variety of program improvements, including Soldier, Family and civilian assistance centers put into warrior campuses “that render a multitude of Soldier care,” he said.
Also, the training and education programs for cadre and senior leaders was redesigned and in the spring of 2014, more rigorous cadre selection criteria went into effect to ensure that only the best were chosen, he said. The Army is looking to tighten those standards even further.
Besides that, Toner said he personally visits and inspects each WTU at least once every 18 months. With the reduction to 15 WTUs, he said he expects to be able to visit each one every 12 months.
There are also quarterly town-hall meetings and inspections by the Army inspector-general and teams from the Department of Defense to ensure quality remains high, he said.
Another testament to the program’s success is that over the life of the WTU program, 66,000 Soldiers were assigned to WTUs and of those, 29,000 improved enough to be able to return to the force, he said.
The remaining 15 WTUs will be located at each of the Army’s divisions and corps. One will also serve Fort Benning, Georgia, which has a large demobilization center. Another will be attached to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland, and one to Brooke Army Medical Center, Texas. There will also be a WTU in Hawaii and Germany, he said.
Inactivating WTUs are at: Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Fort Meade, Maryland; and Naval Medical Center, San Diego.