After nine years in two ongoing wars, Army commanders are now more than ever being forced to leave behind thousands of soldiers declared unfit for duty due to not just injury and illness but also poor mental health. More than 13,000 active-duty Army soldiers have been found to be unfit for duty, according to a new report. With more soldiers becoming burnt out from an exhausting war, those at the front line are feeling the brunt of the crisis by having less help, more responsibilities, and surmounting anxiety.
Currently, there are 116,423 actively serving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 10% of them declared non-deployable—an amount equal to four combat brigades. Due to cumulating frustration over two wars with no end in sight and smaller numbers of reliable deployment, the percentage of those soldiers deemed unfit will only increase over time. About 10% of these soldiers removed from duty are suffering from serious physical wounds or injuries obtained during combat, including severe brain injury.
These soldiers, along with those who have fallen ill, been diagnosed with chronic back or knee problems due to years of combat service, or suffering from serious mental conditions, make up approximately 5,000 of the non-deployable pool. However, the majority of non-deployable troops sent to the Army’s Warrior Transition Units—housing that provides treatment and disposition of soldiers removed from combat—is experiencing conditions non-related to combat. These conditions include such internal illnesses as leukemia, kidney disease, coronary disease, chronic pain, or mental conditions such as acute anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Additionally, most soldiers with these conditions tend to exacerbate their illnesses with substance abuse problems.
Although establishment of the Army’s Warrior Transition Command was intended to oversee those soldiers injured in battle, its Units are experiencing an inundation of soldiers with non-battle related illnesses and injuries. Now, the Army is struggling to house and supervise the 8,000 non-deployable soldiers who are exhibiting mental issues, behavioral problems, substance abuse, or other health conditions. While the Units’ mission is to treat every fallen soldier and either return him or her to combat or prepare them for civilian life, the Units are overwhelmed by this influx of non-deployable soldiers coming in as little are making their way out. Some sergeants in the Warrior Transition Units have noticed that those soldiers with combat-related injuries are more likely to have the desire to return to their units and resume duty, and are therefore more compliant with treatment and focused on recovery. On the other hand, those with mental illnesses and behavioral issues require more complex, long-term treatment, and are less likely to return to combat. Despite the lack of manpower the Army is experiencing, combat commanders are still discarding individuals with mental, substance abuse, or behavior problems since they are unfit for battle, at a rate higher than ever before during the nine-year combat.
The Army is obligated to diagnose any soldier who is deemed unfit for duty, regardless of how or where the soldiers obtained their injuries, and to follow through with their treatment. While the majority of these non-deployable soldiers are experiencing genuine illnesses or complications, there are still some who feign injuries to avoid deployment while securing their pension. In response to this growing problem, as well as the strain of resources left to treat legitimate battle-related injuries and illnesses, locations like Fort Hood have built separate barracks to house those soldiers with battle-related conditions. For even those believed to have false illnesses or conditions, Warrior Transition Unit personnel are obligated to see through to the end of their treatment in case they may in fact have a legitimate mental illness.
In 2007, the average number of soldiers deemed unfit for combat duty was 67 soldiers per deploying brigade; this year, that number has doubled. Today’s average number of soldiers declared unfit for duty is now 135 per brigade. Likewise, the National Guard and the Army Reserve are also experiencing increases in their non-deployable soldiers. Also, more Army soldiers are being left behind due to behavioral problems such as a history of bad behavior, anger, aggressiveness, or failure to adhere to disciplinary action. According to the Army’s statistics, those soldiers removed from deployment duty due to disciplinary problems today is 43% higher than it was in 2007. These losses are leaving active-duty troops on the combat lines functioning at 90% capacity, making them more vulnerable to weakness, strain, and extended stays. The growing amount of stress all around is becoming a universal problem in the Army.