Injured Troops Sent Back to Iraq Amid Soldier Shortage

Seventy-nine injured soldiers were pressed into war duty last month as the U.S. Army struggled to fill its ranks, but most were assigned to light-duty jobs within limits set by doctors, two Army leaders said.

The Denver Post, quoting internal Army e-mails and a Fort Carson soldier, reported that troops had been deployed to Kuwait en route to Iraq while they were still receiving medical treatment for various conditions.

Fort Carson's top general, Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, said most of the 79 soldiers remain in Iraq, while about a dozen are in Kuwait, the newspaper reported in Friday editions. A few returned to the United States because of inadequate rehabilitation available in theater, Graham said.

Graham said he has asked Fort Carson's inspector general to investigate whether proper procedures were followed in sending the soldiers into war zones.

Congressional investigators also are reviewing allegations that medically unfit soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to shore up lagging troop numbers.

"My personal opinion is, is that as the war goes on, you'll see more and more soldiers with (limitations)," Graham said.

Master Sgt. Denny Nelson was sent overseas last month for a third tour in the Middle East though doctor's orders said he should not run, jump or carry more than 20 pounds because of a serious foot injury, The Denver Post reported.

Nelson was sent back to the U.S. after a doctor in Kuwait told Fort Carson officials he should never have left the United States.

Col. John Hort, commander of Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said the 79 soldiers were among 130 who had been judged temporarily unfit for war duty, The Gazette reported.

The 79 were deemed able to perform limited duties such as straightening out paperwork at bases in Kuwait because their conditions, including sleep disorders and broken bones, could be treated by doctors in the Middle East as easily as in Colorado, he said.

Hort needed the troops so he could send other soldiers into the streets of Baghdad's suburbs.

"Those soldiers could perform limited duty that could allow healthy soldiers to perform more strenuous tasks," Hort told The Gazette from Iraq.

No soldiers with diagnosed mental illnesses were sent, he said.

Graham said commanders do not put any injured soldier in harm's way.

Sending an unfit soldier back to war means "you are not mission capable, and the soldier becomes a risk to himself and others in the unit," said U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which requested an investigation by the Government Accountability Office last summer.

GAO investigators have identified other cases of unfit soldiers being deployed from Fort Drum in New York and Fort Stewart and Fort Benning in Georgia, said Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management investigations for the GAO, a nonpartisan congressional agency that audits federal programs.

"We don't have any confirmation that commanders are under pressure to fill their units," Farrell said.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed in December for the third time. The unit has been under strength, partly because of the number of soldiers who are injured.

"Almost a battalion of soldiers have had medical conditions that prevent them from coming back to Iraq with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team," Hort said.