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Army probe finds no deliberate mistreatment of Oregon Guard troops

"Very disappointing." That's how Oregon Senator Ron Wyden describes a series of Army investigations into the treatment of injured Oregon National Guard soldiers last year. Those inquires conclude the Oregon troops were not treated as second class soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

In a statement, Senator Wyden says "the assertion that no Oregon Guard soldiers were treated badly directly conflicts with what I heard from the soldiers I talked to."

Last spring, Oregon National Guard troops just back from Iraq said they weren't getting the medical treatment they deserved. The Army launched three investigations and one Inspector General inquiry.

The conclusion: there are "systemic" shortcomings in how the Army treats soldiers just back from war. But the Oregon soldiers did not receive lesser care than regular soldiers.

Here's how Specialist Rich Pruden describes his experience coming home with an injured shoulder:

"I don't think I was discriminated against, but I feel like I was kind of pushed through the process without actually sitting down and having somebody listen to what I'm trying to say."

The Army's report places some of the blame on the leaders of the Oregon guard unit. They returned home to Oregon instead of staying to help their solders.

Senator Wyden, a Democrat, calls that finding "insulting." He also criticizes the Army for declining to release the results of all of four of its investigations.

The Army's investigations also looked at two Powerpoint slides that some Guardsmen found offensive. The slides were used in a pre-homecoming briefing with staff JBLM.

One showed a ball cap emblazoned with the words "Weekend Warrior" and a pair of feet propped up. The investigation found that image was "included to break up the monotony of a rather dry presentation."

The second slide warned that some soldiers might try to milk their injury in order to stay on active duty status and continue to get paid by the Army. The investigation found it was meant to heighten "awareness of this potential problem."

Ultimately, investigators found "no evidence of malicious intent" with respect to the slides.

Senator Wyden responds:

"I have seen some improvements at Lewis-McChord. However, other actions (like putting the officer who wrote the offensive PowerPoint back in charge and promoting her) give me pause."

JBLM officials also released a statement Tuesday that reads in part:

"It's... important to stress that the Western Regional Medical Command is very committed to providing the best, quality care to all Service Members regardless of military component. At no time was it ever anyone's intention to offend any member of the Oregon Army National Guard, with regard to the Powerpoint presentation."

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.