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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S. 2516

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. PRYOR:

S. 2516. A bill to recognize the sacrifices of the members of the Armed Forces who are injured in combat, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Armed Services.

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I come to the Chamber today to discuss a reality of today's world in Iraq and elsewhere that I think has not received the appropriate attention. I am referring to the thousands of men and women who have been seriously wounded in recent U.S. combat missions. The numbers wounded in Iraq have soared in recent weeks. Fatalities have risen likewise to a total of 817 yesterday. Of the latest data I have been able to find, 5,015 military personnel have been injured in Iraq, 2,049 have been able to return to action within 72 hours, and 2,964 could not, and many of these injured troops will face months, if not years, of rehabilitation. Many of these troops will suffer lifelong disabilities.

I am told Walter Reed Army Hospital is close to being filled to capacity. I have been to Walter Reed twice this year, and while I talked with soldiers who were wounded in the Iraqi theater, I can tell you that coming face to face with our soldiers in a hospital ward is a sobering event. It makes you think about the costs of war and the sacrifices these men and women have made for our Nation, for each of us.

Memorial Day has just passed, and I have tried to think how best to recognize the sacrifices of our wounded service men and women. I am not sure that I ever can appropriately and fully recognize their sacrifice, but I want to try. That is why I introduce today the Service Act for Care and Relief Initiatives for Forces Injured in Combat Engagement Act, or the SACRIFICE Act. The SACRIFICE Act addresses the commitment shown by our troops injured in combat and attempts to reciprocate in kind.

My bill does three things. First, it would recognize the sacrifice of American military personnel killed and injured in combat and the heroic efforts of our medical teams through a sense of the Senate.

Second, it would aim to ease the stress of families who are attempting to follow the whereabouts of a loved one injured by combat by establishing a tracking system for wounded personnel being transported out of a combat zone.

Third, it would call for a $10 million authorization to modernize medical combat equipment, treatment, and combat care triage for our medics in their fight to save lives.

Let me tell my colleagues how I came to write this bill.

Arkansas is a relatively small State with a relatively high enrollment of Arkansans serving our Nation in Active Duty and in the National Guard and Reserve. In March of this year, we said goodbye to 3,000 fellow Arkansans who were deployed to Iraq as part of the 39th Infantry Brigade of the first Cavalry.

It was hard for me to witness separation of families as soldiers prepared for year long war zone deployment. It has been painful to receive news of the 8 Arkansans who have fallen since the beginning of that deployment and the additional 44 who have been seriously injured and transported out of theater.

In honor of this sacrifice, the first section of my bill is a sense of the Senate regarding the American military personnel killed and injured in combat and the heroic efforts of our medical teams.

The second section of the bill, the tracking portion, is an easy, no-cost provision to ease emotional stress of families whose loved ones have been listed as seriously injured or very seriously injured and are being transported out of theater.

As I mentioned before, 44 Arkansas members of the 39th Infantry Brigade have thus far been listed as seriously injured or very seriously injured and evacuated out of theater. Although Congress does not receive notification of the wounded, I continuously receive calls from families who are distraught and worried because of failures in the current family notification system.

The Defense Department has a computer tracking system that is designed to help keep families of fallen soldiers informed of their whereabouts, but the system is not without glitches. For example, some families who have contacted my office have been distraught after hearing from military that they are not exactly sure where the soldiers were at the time. This has made it difficult for families to make plans to travel to the hospitals where their loved one are being cared for.

Also, when a soldier is upgraded from seriously injured or very seriously injured to not seriously injured, the Department of the Army closes out their case in the computer tracking system, making it particularly difficult for families to keep track of their loved ones. We can and should do more for families of loved ones during such trying times.

I want to recognize SPC Henry Austin Phillips of Charlie Company of the 153rd Infantry, 39th Brigade out of DeQueen, AR.

For example, some families that have contacted my office have been distraught after hearing from the military that they were not sure exactly where the soldiers were at that time. This has made it difficult for families to make plans to travel to the hospital where their loved ones are being cared for.

Also, when a soldier is upgraded from "seriously injured" or "very seriously injured" to "not seriously inured," the Department of the Army closes out their case in the computer tracking system, making it particularly difficult for families to keep track of their loved ones. We can-and should-do more for the families of loved ones during such trying times.

I want to recognize SPC Henry Austin Phillips of the Charlie Company, 1-153d Infantry, 39th Brigade out of DeQueen, AR. He did a great job in the field, and the communication problems that ensued following his injury are not a reflection of him or the military.

He was proud to serve his country, and his State and country are proud of him. I know that if he could return, he would.
As I understand it, this is the situation that Pam Phillips endured when her husband was wounded in Iraq, losing his lower right leg.

After suffering his injury, Specialist Phillips requested that he deliver the news to Pam regarding the seriousness of his condition.

He talked with Pam on Wednesday, May 19, asked her to join him as soon as possible at the Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, where Specialist Phillips understood he would be receiving critical treatment. Naturally, Pam told her husband that she would be there.

I can only imagine that call but it should come as no surprise that Pam and Specialist Phillips both assumed that the Army would assist Pam in joining her husband as soon as possible. That was Specialist Phillips's wish.

But that did not happen.

The nature of Specialist Phillips's injuries required that he be heavily sedated following this phone call so he was unable to speak directly with his wife for several days.

After talking with her husband on May 19, Pam assumed that someone in the Army would assist her in getting to Germany and advise her of her husband's health status. For the record, we do indeed provide spouses with Invitational Travel Orders to transport immediate family members of the seriously wounded. I have encountered several problems with those orders, too.

However, Pam received no additional communication from the Army. Two days later, on May 21, I received a call from Arkansas State Representative Daryl Pace, Pam's brother. Regrettably, this was not the first call I have gotten from families trying to locate their loved ones who have been wounded. I have had four such calls since April.

My staff and the Arkansas National Guard worked tirelessly to track down Specialist Phillips. Finally, on Monday, May 24, 5 days later, Pam learned that her husband had arrived at Walter Reed on Friday, May 21. After 5 days of sheer emotional stress, Pam finally learned that her husband was recovering, that he was OK.

Here is what Daryl Pace has to say about the experience that his sister Pam went through:

There's an empty channel between the field and the hospital. When nobody could find Austin, Pam was horrified that Austin's condition had deteriorated. We were left with the assumption that he was no longer with us.

I ask my colleagues, can they imagine getting a phone call from their son, their daughter, their husband or their wife telling them that they had lost their leg and that they wanted my colleagues to be with them as soon as possible?

Can you imagine that their loved one is in the care of the U.S. Armed Forces, but nobody in the military calls them? Nobody can answer an inquiry about their loved one's whereabouts?

Again, my bill language is direct, I simply want the Secretary of Defense to put into place a uniform policy and procedure that notifies families of an injury to a loved one in combat, followed by regular updates on the health and location of the wounded member.

I ask my colleagues to support me in helping families during a time of terrible tension and emotional pain by requesting that the Secretary review this matter and put into place a policy that supports families rather than burdens them.

The last section of the bill aims to reduce fatalities and disability rates by providing medics in theater with tools that they need.

Like many of my colleagues, I have taken note of the rising casualties and the rising wounded count. But I have also taken note of a rising number of news articles detailing the conditions that our medics must work under while treating our wounded.

According to a Washington Post article on April 27, 2004: "So far in April, more than 900 soldiers and Marines have been wounded in Iraq, more than twice the number wounded in October, the previous high." While half of those wounded were able to return to duty, "The others arrive on stretchers at the hospitals operated by the 31st Combat Support Hospital.

And I quote, "These injuries," said LTC Stephen M. Smith, executive officer of the Baghdad facility, "are horrific."

The article goes on to document the struggles that the medical team confronts everyday in meeting their goal to provide "lightning-swift, expert treatment" and the transfer of the wounded to a military hospital.

An Army survey has documented that the unit with the lowest morale in Iraq was one that ran the combat hospitals.

Another article from the Washington Times dated May 5, 2004, carries the headline: "Casualties of Iraq war can 'get to' U.S. Medics." The article reports that in April 2004, the deadliest month for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the Baghdad hospital treated more than 500 wounded Americans.

The article chronicles the amazing efforts by U.S. medical personnel to save the lives of the wounded.

It details the adverse conditions where "the emergency room overflows with wounded soldiers on stretchers." It quotes Major Wenner, a family doctor from Fort Sill, OK, as saying that:

It's not the names I remember as I go to sleep, It is the faces and the injuries. . . . My alarm goes off, and it is time to start all over again. Groundhog Day, we call it.

These medics and the wounded that they tend to everyday merit immediate attention by this body for the conditions they work under and medical equipment they work with.

The 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is an example of our current combat support hospital system that we use in Iraq. It is basically a bunch of tents. I have had the opportunity to tour a model similar to that used by the 212th, but that was on the Capitol lawn when it wasn't in use.

According to an Army Lessons Learned Report on the 212th, the reality of these medic platforms is frightening. The tents are porous and the report sites adverse conditions for medical personnel and the wounded they treat due to sand and dirt filtering through the seams, doors and floors impacting the medical team's ability to function.

I think we can do better than this and in fact, so does the Army. The Army has a plan to modernize the combat support hospitals into the Future Combat Hospital Systems. Let me share with you the Army's view:

The U.S. Army Medical Department has a continuing requirement to support its deployed medical forces with shelters appropriate to battlefield medical missions. Currently a combination of aged ISO Shelters and TEMPER Tents are being used at Combat Support Hospital (CSHs), and Forward Surgical Teams (FST) are using a composite of less than optimal tents. A formal Operational Requirements Document was drafted by the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School to support an upgrade/modernization to these new platforms. With the recent changeover to the new Joint requirements process, this document will eventually roll into this new format.

This Army report further states that the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command placed a requirement into the fiscal year 2006-2011 Program Objective Memorandum for the development effort. The funding requested was $14 million for fiscal year 2005-2006 and $10 million for fiscal year 2007. However, modernization of the Combat Support Hospital System fell below the core funding capability.

In another report, the modernization, conversion and recapitalization for the non-medical equipment components necessary to support the Army medical casualty care platform was recognized as a shortfall in the organizational structure in the first gulf war, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

In other words, we have known for more than a decade that the current system does not work well in today's battlefields but we didn't fund the upgrade. We are basically putting U.S. medical personnel in a situation that makes their jobs even harder.

I am not aware of any objection to this provision, except for the offset. It is not the merits, it is the money.

So I ask my colleagues, what is it worth to save one soldier, one Marine? I think it is worth at least $10 million for medical equipment that has been identified as a necessary readiness requirement. I think $10 million is more than reasonable.

Medical analysis suggests that each additional dollar spent on modernization of medical equipment can produce health gains, including reducing death and disability rates.

Just as important, additional investments in the combat support hospital system will send a message to our doctors, nurses and other critical medical support personnel in theater. It will tell them that we recognize the tremendous job that they are doing and that we back up that recognition with real tools that will aid them in their work. Given the conditions that these medics are working under, $10 million is the least we can do.

The $10 million for medical equipment and combat casualty care technologies would be funded by an offset from a defense-wide reduction in travel monies. The General Accounting Office recently found that the Department of Defense is losing millions of dollars in fraud, waste and improper papers for travel. Fixing this problem is a double victory for taxpayers and our Defense priorities.

In closing, my bill SACRIFICE is a humble act that holds very important initiatives. I urge my colleagues to join me in my effort to recognize the sacrifice being made by members of the Armed Forces, to provide support for their families, and to provide the necessary tools to bring them home safely.

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