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Mother of fallen guardsman blasts Army care

Oct. 9, 2007 - 06:07PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 9, 2007 - 06:07PM  |  
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An Indiana National Guardsman who died while in the care of an Army unit for wounded soldiers was alone, in excruciating pain and had not been seen by doctors for days, his family said Tuesday.

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An Indiana National Guardsman who died while in the care of an Army unit for wounded soldiers was alone, in excruciating pain and had not been seen by doctors for days, his family said Tuesday.

Sgt. Gerald Cassidy, 32, of Westfield, Ind., died in a chair on the third floor of a renovated barracks at Fort Knox, Ky., in September — five months after arriving at the post with what his family said was brain damage suffered in a roadside explosion in Iraq.

Cassidy's mother, Kay McMullen, of Carmel, Ind., said the manner of his death — and inconsistent treatment that included the Army denying him pain medication — cast doubt on the quality of care for service members if the severely wounded are being left to fend for themselves.

"He died because the Army didn't care for him," she said tearfully. "He came back from Iraq, and they killed him."

Military officials on Tuesday declined to comment on specifics of Cassidy's case until an investigation is completed.

A military autopsy had not been fully completed Tuesday, but results of an independent examination performed at the request of the family could not determine a cause of death. That autopsy, however, found Cassidy had been dead for hours before being found and may have been unconscious for days.

Cassidy's body was found in his room on Sept. 21. Military officials checked on Cassidy only after his wife made repeated calls to the post begging for help, McMullen said.

His family said a review of voice-mail messages left on Cassidy's cell phone indicate he had not been checked on for at least two days despite an Army requirement that each soldier be accounted for twice daily. McMullen also said the Army declined to let an Indianapolis doctor treat him until weeks before his death.

Connie Shaffery, spokeswoman for the Army post outside Louisville, Ky., declined to comment.

"This is something that is very important to us, and we want to have a conclusive answer," she said.

Cassidy arrived at Fort Knox in April with blinding headaches, memory and hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was assigned to a "warrior transition unit," which the Pentagon created for wounded service members after problems were discovered at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital.

Under the Army units, each injured service member is to be assigned a doctor, a nurse care manager and a squad leader to manage treatment. A Government Accountability Office report last month, however, found that more than half the 35 new medical units were not fully staffed.

Shaffery said the transition unit at Fort Knox also had not been fully staffed, but that the nearly 250 injured soldiers there get adequate care.

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 to newer, more accommodating buildings, but similar problems were reported at posts including Fort Stewart, Ga.

McMullen questions whether that care was adequate. She said Cassidy was often left in lines waiting to see doctors and would forget whether he took his medications due to memory problems.

On one occasion, Cassidy told family he passed out in his room and woke in a pool of blood coming from his nose and mouth.

"He should have had a buddy. He should never have been put in a room by himself," McMullen said. "He would still be alive if they had let him do that."

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