Three reassigned in soldier death investigation
Evansville - The Army has relieved three soldiers of leadership roles in a unit for wounded veterans at Fort Knox over last month's death of an Indiana National Guardsman in their care, military officials said Wednesday.
A battalion commander, company commander and platoon sergeant have been removed from the unit as an investigation continues into the death of Sgt. Gerald Cassidy, said Maj. Gen. Robert Williams, commander of the Army post outside Louisville, Ky.
"I have lost confidence in their leadership abilities," Williams said. The military did not identify the soldiers.
Cassidy, 32, had been wounded in a roadside bombing in Iraq in June 2006 and arrived at Fort Knox in April 2007 with blinding headaches, memory and hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was found alone in his room Sept. 21, slumped in a chair.
An autopsy requested by his family determined Cassidy had been dead for hours before being found and may have been unconscious for days before that. Cassidy's mother has called for an explanation of her son's death and Representative Dan Burton has also criticized the apparent poor treatment.
Under Army rules, each injured service member in such a unit is assigned a doctor, a nurse care manager and a squad leader to manage treatment. Military officials have declined to discuss details of Cassidy's death.
Commanders from Walter Reed Army Medical Center met Tuesday with Cassidy's family to promise a thorough investigation, said Brig. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, the deputy commander of Walter Reed.
"The intent was simply to reach out to the family in a gesture of compassion for the loss of their son, and to reassure them of the circumstances surrounding his death," Tucker said.
The Pentagon created the "warrior transition units" after problems were discovered at Walter Reed. A Government Accountability Office report last month, however, found that more than half the 35 new medical units were not fully staffed.
Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana also has asked the Army to turn over Cassidy's medical records - both from his service in Iraq and once his care at Fort Knox began - and official reports on the roadside bombing that injured Cassidy in June 2006.
"Based on what I've learned to date, serious questions about the Army's care and treatment for Sgt. Cassidy remain unanswered," Bayh said.
Kay McMullen, Cassidy's mother, declined to comment until the military investigations concluded.
As early as 2003, Fort Knox was the target of criticism for putting injured soldiers in unsuitable living conditions, including outdated wooden barracks unfit for medical care. Wounded soldiers that year were moved more accommodating buildings, but similar problems were reported at other posts.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Cassidy's death may reflect wider problems in care for the wounded.
"We don't leave soldiers behind at war. We shouldn't leave anybody behind back home, either," he said. "We have to figure out a way to transfer that same idea of solidarity on the battlefield to taking care of soldiers at home."
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