Herald/John A. Bowersmith - Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey talks with members of the media during a news conference at the 1st Cavalry Division’s headquarters Thursday at Fort Hood.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD – Gen. George Casey said he worked hard to come up with a way to describe the Army's current state. The Army is by no means broke, it's "out of balance right now," the Army chief of staff said on Thursday at 1st Cavalry Division headquarters.

Casey and his wife were at Fort Hood to visit with soldiers and family members from the Warrior Transition Unit and 1st Cavalry. He also met with Gold Star family members.

State of the Army

Casey said the Army is out of balance because it is so weighed down by the demands of fighting, and that is taking away from the ability to take care of soldiers and families for the long haul.

The Army is doing what it can, "but we aren't where we need to be, and we know it," Casey said. Soldiers and their families have a great burden, he said, and to help, the Army will double the money it puts toward soldier and family support programs.

Soldiers, while proud, are stretched. The Army was not big enough in 2001 to handle the demands of war, and the soldiers were not trained for the mission they were asked to accomplish, Casey said.

He said plans were under way to increase the ration between time spent deployed and time spent at home. By 2011, a soldier should be home for two years for every year deployed, Casey said, and that will be accomplished by increasing the Army by 75,000 soldiers.

Time at home between deployments, or "dwell time," is a big concern for soldiers and family members Casey talked to on Thursday. The Army is asking more of those people and, in turn, they want more support from the Army.

Casey said that dwell time is an ongoing topic of concern. From conversations he had with families last year, it was decided that more support was needed because volunteers were feeling burned out. The Army started hiring family readiness support assistants, paid workers who help family readiness groups get the resources they need to take care of soldiers' loved ones.

Casey said the support assistants have made a huge difference.

The Army will also increase child care options by creating 72 new child development centers across the country this year, Casey said.

Getting rid of the stigma

Mental health is another issue the Army will hit hard, the general said.

"(Post-traumatic stress disorder) is something that's going to be with us a long time," Casey said.

This is a combat wound and must be treated as such, he added.

The Army developed physical fitness programs to combat problems in the 1980s. Something like that must be done for mental fitness, Casey said.

Not only must mental health be addressed, Casey said, but the stigma of it as well. He made an announcement in May that Question 21 on the National Security Positions Questionnaire was revised. It now excludes counseling related to marital, family and grief issues, according to information from www.army.mil.

"This decision should lessen concerns that psychological or behavioral health counseling may jeopardize security clearance or adversely impact careers," read a letter from Casey's office. "This change allows issues to be identified and addressed earlier – before psychological stress escalates to a more serious condition that may further impact the individual, the unit, families and the Army's overall readiness."

Casey said he talked with Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, about ways the post could help abolish the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.

More help for wounded warriors

Following reports of poor care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the Army began creating Warrior Transition Units to ensure soldiers were getting the care they needed to return them to duty or the civilian work force. Fort Hood's unit stood up in June 2007, and it quickly grew. Fort Hood has the largest Warrior Transition Battalion with nearly 1,400 soldiers, according to information from Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.

The battalion has seven primary care providers, 42 nurse case managers, three Medical Evaluation Board physicians and 80 administrative staff members, according to a July 12 release from Darnall.

The biggest concern in Warrior Transition Units across the Army is the availability of physicians, Casey said. Soldiers and family members at Fort Hood told him on Thursday that the units were a huge step forward in the recovery process, but more work must be done on medical processes and support.

More health care providers are needed, he said, so soldiers don't have to wait a month for a medical evaluation. The typical wait time for an evaluation is 50 days at Fort Bliss, Casey said, but other posts can take 130 days to complete medical evaluations.

Officials are examining how to improve that, Casey said.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547.

About Gen. Casey

It was great to be back at Fort Hood, Casey said on Thursday. He served as the 1st Cavalry Division's chief of staff and commander of its 3rd Brigade Combat Team in the 1990s.

He was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in 1970, according to information from www.army.mil. He has commanded at every level from platoon to division.

Before becoming the 36th Army chief of staff in April 2007, he served as commander of Multinational Force-Iraq for nearly three years, starting in July 2004. Thursday was his first trip back to Fort Hood since taking the job as Army chief of staff, he said.

Gen. David Petraeus replaced Casey in that position, and Petraeus will soon be replaced by Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who was recently approved by the Senate for promotion to general and as head of forces in Iraq. Odierno handed III Corps and Fort Hood over to Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch on July 18.

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