Leahy asks Bush to improve Guard barracks conditions

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says the Bush administration is treating many National Guard troops as “second class soldiers” because the troops are not receiving proper medical care after serving in Iraq. Leahy called on the president to immediately rectify this situation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Earlier this week, Leahy sent a member of his staff to Fort Stewart in Georgia to investigate claims that the medical needs of many Guard members were being ignored by the Defense Department. There were reports that hundreds of Guard members are being denied essential medical care in a timely fashion and that many of these troops are assigned to housing that lacks basic sanitation services.

After reviewing the firsthand report of his staff member, Leahy says he’s distressed to learn that many of the charges are true:

(Leahy) “It’s really bad news. We have hundreds of members of the National Guard and Reserves being held down there for medical attention. And the conditions that they’re being held in is absolutely terrible. One of these commanders down there said the soldiers are going through a go-slow medical review system and at the same time they’re living in a ‘get them the hell out of here’ barracks.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says there’s no doubt in his mind that the Bush administration is treating Guard members much differently from troops of the regular army.

(Leahy) “They’re being treated as second class citizens, in this case second class soldiers. And many of the things that are being done, whether intentional or not, are treating them that way. The irony is while they were in Iraq or Afghanistan they were carrying out exactly the same duties as the regular Army. There was no difference. In fact people were not able to tell, watching the assignments they had, who was regular Army who was Guard and Reserve.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the situation is further proof that the Bush administration has failed to provide proper planning for a variety of critical issues following the initial war effort in Iraq.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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