STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's the story of an injured veteran who says he's in limbo because of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was never a patient to that Washington hospital, which has been much criticized lately, but he says the hospital is holding up paperwork that prevents him from getting care. His long wait is not unusual, and we have a report this morning from Fred Thys of member station WBUR.
Sergeant CHASE GEAN (U.S. Army): Just like that.
Unidentified Woman: Just like that?
Sgt. GEAN: Yeah, because I wrote in my notebook (Unintelligible) the other day. It's hard.
Unidentified Woman: Yeah.
FRED THYS: Just before Thanksgiving, Sgt. Chase Gean was learning how to get back into his wheelchair from the floor.
Sgt. GEAN: Are you ready?
Unidentified Woman: Yeah, I'm ready. (Unintelligible).
Sgt. GEAN: One -
Unidentified Woman: Two, three.
THYS: He sat on a step like the ones you see in aerobics classes, and just using his arms pushed himself up into the chair. Chase Gean was paralyzed from the waist down in the mountains of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. Just as the sun went down, his patrol was shot at from three different sides.
Sgt. GEAN: I was the first one to get shot. I got shot in the back and it hit my spine, and immediately my legs went numb.
THYS: Once Sergeant Gean's rehab at a Boston VA hospital was over, he was only able to go home because his advocate at Paralyzed Veterans of America took out his own credit card to pay for the $6,000 hotel bill Gean had incurred so his fiancee could be near him through rehab.
Four months after his release from the hospital, the couple are living in Colorado. He wants to start rehabilitation in a civilian hospital that specializes in spinal cord injuries.
He believes that the VA will pay for the rehab, but the VA can't pay for anything until he gets his discharge papers from the Army. The holdup is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Sgt. GEAN: They're the ones that aren't getting my paperwork done, like they're the ones that keep screwing everything up. They can't do anything right the first time.
THYS: The Army would not talk about Chase Gean, citing his privacy. But an Army spokesman says it takes time to make sure that a soldier is permanently disabled. Gean doesn't understand why it's so hard for Walter Reed to figure out that he is permanently disabled.
Sgt. GEAN: Obviously I'm not going to go back in the Army, and go back to Afghanistan unless they put a machine gun on the sides of my wheelchair.
THYS: Gean's Army paychecks are about $1,800 a month. He may be eligible to receive an additional $4,200 a month in tax-free VA disability benefits. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts brought up Gean's plight at a hearing on Capitol Hill, accusing Walter Reed of losing track of him and leaving him in what the senator called a troubling gray area.
Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): And this is the situation that is repeated, where people are being left out and effectively dropped.
THYS: Gean is clearly frustrated and just wants to get on with his life.
Sgt. GEAN: I just want some kind of physical therapy or something. I don't need to be not doing nothing. I'm 26 years old.
THYS: And he says the bullet did not sever his spinal cord, so he still has hope that someday he can regain some use of his legs. Gean has nothing but praise for the medical care he's received, both at Walter Reed and at the VA hospital in Boston.
His frustration is with the Army's unexplained delay in letting him go so that he can try to rebuild his body and his life.
For NPR News, I'm Fred Thys.