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Army To Reduce Reservists Medical Holds
By Lisa Burgess
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 12, 2004

ARLINGTON, Va. Army officials are promising reserve component soldiers found medically unfit to serve that they will not languish waiting for a discharge.

According to a policy issued March 3, Reserve or National Guard soldiers who are being medically discharged or retired will now be released from active duty no more than 30 days after the Army makes its final ruling, instead of a three-month maximum previously in effect.

The Army's official goal is to release such soldiers "within five working days" once the service's Physical Disability Agency issues its final determination that the soldier is "unfit" for service, the policy says.

The 30-day window is a "worst-case" scenario, specified, "only to allow installations flexibility to handle special cases," according to the policy.

The full month might be needed, for example, if a soldier's condition takes a sudden turn for the worse while he or she is waiting for discharge paperwork and must be re-evaluated by the medical board, said Col. Fred Schumacher, executive officer and reserve component advisor on the Army Physical Disability Agency.

The new policy "is a recognition that we need to get [reserve soldiers] back to job and family as fast as we can, after appropriate medical treatment and processing," Schumacher said.

Previously, Army rules allowed officials to take up to 90 days to wrap up out-processing for any soldier found medically unfit for service after he or she went through the Army's physical disability evaluation system.

Active-duty soldiers use the extended out-processing to "essentially begin a career shift," seeking employment outside the Army, as well as finding new housing for their families, Schumacher said.

The 90-day out-processing maximum remains the standard for active-duty soldiers.

But reserve component soldiers who have been "medically boarded" are in a very different position, because they have civilian lives, Schumacher said.

The medical board process already takes "several months" beyond a soldier's actual medical treatment in Army hospitals.

So once the board has issued its final ruling, "it's pointless to have them just sitting around," Schumacher said. "The soldier needs to get on with his life."

Delays in out-processing can place a special strain on reservists because their jobs and families are often located far from the active-duty mobilization station or an Army medical facility where soldier is required to stay until officially discharged.

But the hardships posed by the 90-day out-processing window didn't reach the attention of Army officials until large numbers of Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers began getting called up for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

The "medical hold" issue came to a head last spring with news stories about hundreds of reservists stuck for months at Fort Stewart, Ga., waiting for their conditions to be evaluated, treated by service doctors, and assessed by the Army medical board.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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