Thousands of soldiers in Army awaiting word on possible discharge, Chiarelli says

After 10 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are more than 13,000 soldiers waiting to find out whether they will be returned to full duty or receive a discharge, according to the vice chief of staff of the Army.

The Disability Evaluation System makes a determination, based on medical evaluations of soldiers in treatment, whether they can return to duty or should be discharged. Depending on service members’ medical condition, they can be in a limbo status for 12 months or longer.

As a result, Gen. Peter Chiarelli told the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee this week, the Army wants the planned overall authorized force reduction to 520,000 to be gradual for both the overall force structure and for the 22,000 who were brought in through the temporary end-strength increase (TESI) that took place beginning in 2009.

That’s in part because some of the TESI soldiers were in needed categories and because of the number who are medically non-deployable, Chiarelli said.

In an illustration of the current stress on the force, Chiarelli pointed out that an aviation brigade in Fort Hood, Tex., went back to theater “12 months to the day after they returned.”

Chiarelli described the current Army as “more combat tested” after 10 years of fighting than at any time in the past.

“Ten years of fighting with an all-volunteer force -- soldiers who have been on three, four, five and six deployments -- gives you a level of readiness when it comes to their ability as soldiers that I don’t believe has ever been as high as it is today,” he said.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

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