Joint Base Lewis-McChord held a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday for a $53 million barracks that will house wounded soldiers. The facility, part of the base's "Warrior Transition Battalion," features wood floors and barbeque grills, and was hailed by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks as a sign of "significant improvement" in the way the Army treats its returning soldiers. As two recent suicides show, though, a fancy new barracks isn't likely to insure that soldiers get the help they need.
Yet the Army kept redeploying Hagemann. Before he killed himself, he faced a staggering ninth deployment. The staff sergeant, convinced that he was damned for his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, fought to get out of another tour, but the Army insisted, according to a KOMO-TV interview with Ashley.
Several veterans' rights activists who spoke with SW today see Hagemann's fate as typical of many damaged soldiers. They don't go to the Wounded Transition Battalion because they aren't judged wounded enough, and the military is desperate for their manpower.
Kevin Baker, who was discharged from the 4-9 Infantry Regimen last December, says that virtually "every person in my unit on rear detachment was trying to get into WTB." A rear detachment is composed of soldiers who stay at the base, or are sent back from war due to mental or physical injuries. He says his detachment held about 15 people, and none were admitted into the battalion for wounded soldiers.
One of the people in his detachment was Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who hung himself in March of 2010. The solider had been back from Iraq only a couple of days, probably not enough time to request admission into the WTB. It's dubious, though, that he could have gotten in.
As SW reported earlier this year, Kirkland attempted suicide three times before he finally succeeded, yet was judged "a low-moderate risk" at Madigan Army Medical Center, located at Lewis-McChord. Then, he was mocked by his sergeant, who called Kirkland a "coward" and a "pussy."
So the new barracks might be nice for the soldiers who get in, but a far bigger issue may be those who can't.