Army Orders Inspection of Substandard Substance Abuse Clinics

By John Lavitt 03/16/15

Thousands of soldiers have been routinely denied the treatment they need.

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In response to an investigation into substandard care for soldiers seeking substance abuse treatment, army leaders ordered inspections of all 54 of the service's treatment clinics.

The USA Today report revealed that over half of the outpatient treatment centers available to military personnel are operating at substandard levels. Even worse, thousands of soldiers are denied the help they need. Tragically, more than two dozen soldiers linked to poor care committed suicide.

After learning of the allegations, Army Secretary John McHugh and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, issued a directive to make sure that proper care is being taken of American soldiers. The Army Inspector General was given 90 days to examine the Army’s substance abuse clinics across the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. McHugh and Odierno ordered the investigation be given absolute access to "Army activities, personnel, locations, organizations and documents" to complete the investigation.

In the USA Today report, five current staffers and the recently retired chief of clinical services for the Army Substance Abuse Program, Wanda Kuehr, provided documents that show evidence of poor or borderline treatment methods at all but five of the clinics. The problem began when control of the substance abuse clinics was transferred in 2010 to the Installation Management Command. The Installation Management Command operates garrisons with zero history before the transfer of dealing with substance abuse issues.

As a direct result, the substance abuse program fell into chaos. Right away, decisions to undermine the medical supervision of the program led to the exodus of veteran counselors and clinic directors and then the hiring of unqualified replacements. The immediate negative result was a decline in treatment standards across the board.

Although 20,000 soldiers seek help each year, they now face a poorly-funded program and are often denied treatment. Since 2010, 90 soldiers committed suicide within three months of receiving substance abuse treatment for alcohol or drugs.

Brig. Gen. Jason Evans, an Installation Management deputy commander, denied that the program has declined or that thousands of soldiers have been improperly turned away. The command claimed a medical accreditation group inspects the substance abuse clinics every three years, and few problems have been found. In response, former staffers explained how those inspections tend to overlook the clinics or fail to thoroughly examine the treatment methods offered.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.