Document Shows Army Blocked Help for Soldiers
by Ari Shapiro
Morning Edition, February 7, 2008 · A document from the Department of Veterans Affairs contradicts an assertion made by the Army surgeon general that his office did not tell VA officials to stop helping injured soldiers with their military disability paperwork at a New York Army post.
The paperwork can help determine health care and disability benefits for wounded soldiers.
Last week, NPR first described a meeting last March between an Army team from Washington and VA officials at Fort Drum Army base in upstate New York. NPR reported that Army representatives told the VA not to review the narrative summaries of soldiers’ injuries, and that the VA complied with the Army’s request.
The day the NPR story aired, Army Surgeon General Eric B. Schoomaker denied parts of the report. Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), who represents the Fort Drum area, told North Country Public Radio, that “The Surgeon General of the Army told me very flatly that it was not the Army that told the VA to stop this help.”
Now, NPR has obtained a four-page VA document that contradicts the surgeon general’s statement to McHugh. It was written by one of the VA officials at Fort Drum on March 31, the day after the meeting. The document says Col. Becky Baker of the Army Surgeon General’s office told the VA to discontinue counseling soldiers on the appropriateness of Defense Department ratings because “there exists a conflict of interest.”
When contacted by NPR, Baker referred an interview request to the Army Surgeon General’s spokeswoman. The spokeswoman rejected requests for interviews with Baker and Schoomaker.
The document says that before the Army team’s visit, people from the Army Inspector General’s office came to Fort Drum and told the VA it was providing a useful service to soldiers by reviewing their disability paperwork.
According to the document, joining Baker on the Army team at the Fort Drum meeting was Dr. Alan Janusziewicz. He retired as deputy assistant surgeon general for the Army in October.
“I was part of the team, and I was probably instrumental in the surgeon general denying that the Army had instructed the VA” to stop reviewing soldiers’ Army medical documents, Janusziewicz told NPR in a phone interview.
Janusziewicz says he has no memory of Baker telling the VA to stop helping soldiers with their military paperwork. In fact, he says, he thought the VA at Fort Drum was doing the best job of any base he visited. But he also says his recollection of the meeting is spotty, since it took place almost a year ago.
Read all of it here.