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Originally published Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:01 PM

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Guest columnist

Warrior Transition Units are making headway in helping soldiers

The "invisible" injuries suffered by U.S. soldiers of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury pose challenges as the federal government meets their needs. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli says that the Warrior Transition Units are having much success in helping soldiers get needed longer-term care.

Special to The times

THE United States Army's Warrior Ethos states: "I will never leave a fallen comrade." This promise made to our soldiers applies both on the battlefield and back at home, long after an individual takes off the uniform and returns to civilian life. It is fundamental to our business of defending the nation.

Today, thanks to outstanding medics and medical professionals around the world, more soldiers are surviving battlefield injuries and wounds and returning to duty or to productive lives outside of the military than at any other time in history. In particular, the medical community has made remarkable progress in the treatment of some of the most common physical injuries, including amputations and moderate to severe burns.

However, the greatest challenges lie ahead. I consider the "invisible injuries" of post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) to be the "signature wounds" of this war. In fact, the majority of the soldiers enrolled in the Army's Wounded Warrior program have PTS and/or TBI as a primary diagnosis. These injuries are among the most difficult and debilitating in terms of accurate diagnosis, care and recovery.

We are making progress. The National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to research and the treatment of military personnel and veterans suffering from TBI and other behavioral health issues, will open this summer on the campus of the Navy Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Still, it remains an incredibly challenging endeavor.

The reality is, some of these neurological injuries or conditions cannot be fully repaired or healed even with the most advanced medical treatment available. Unlike an amputation, for example, there is no standard procedure or prognosis for care of severe TBI. In the past, individuals suffering from TBI, PTS or what was previously referred to as "battle fatigue" were often told there was nothing more that could be done for them. They were discharged from the military and left to suffer in silence.

Some ended up living on the street. This is unacceptable. Next to the prosecution of current and future conflicts, our highest priority remains caring for the men and women who serve and sacrifice on behalf of our nation.

In 2007, the Army established Warrior Transition Units (WTU) to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of soldiers determined to require complex medical care for six months or longer. Today, there are 29 installation-based WTUs and nine community-based WTUs located around the world. Approximately 9,300 wounded or injured soldiers are receiving treatment at these facilities.

Teams comprised of nurse case managers, health-care providers and cadre members assist them and their families through the full recovery process. The feedback has consistently been very positive. Most recent Armywide survey results from April indicate an average overall satisfaction rating of 81 percent.

Joint Base Lewis/McChord, located near Tacoma reported a satisfaction rating of more than 90 percent. And we are continually making improvements to the care and services provided at these facilities based on lessons learned.

The Army activated the Warrior Transition Command to oversee the WTUs and to guide the ongoing execution and development of the Warrior Care and Transition Program. The overarching goal is to help soldiers and veterans to heal physically and mentally while building bridges to positive opportunities that lie ahead for them in the future.

We owe the men and women who serve our nation a tremendous debt of gratitude, especially those who sacrificed so greatly. We made a promise to never leave a fallen comrade, and we remain committed to keeping that promise every day of their lives.

Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli is vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army.

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