Category Archives: Military Medicine

Health of the Force

The confluence of recent news stories makes an update on the health of Russian military forces opportune.  As elsewhere in the armed forces, the military’s medical situation seems generally better compared with two or three years ago.

According to Izvestiya, the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU), General-Major Aleksandr Fisun told the Defense Ministry’s Public Council that illnesses in the army declined 13 percent in 2013.  The illness rate in 2012 had been 40 percent higher than 2011.

The MOD attributes the improvement to better living conditions for soldiers. These include heated barracks, washing machines, shower facilities allowing troops to clean up more than once a week, and socks replacing foot wrappings.

Fisun said, among conscripts, 60 percent of illnesses were respiratory in nature, while about 14 percent involved skin conditions.

Better training for commanders was another factor in cutting the number of sick soldiers.  An MOD spokesman told the paper:

“Work in early identification of illnesses was reinforced — commanders were strictly ordered to send subordinates for initial observation on just the suspicion of an illness.  The condition of everyone hospitalized was reported to [military] district commands.”

Valentina Melnikova of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (KSM) told Izvestiya commanders have been the problem.  However, she said Defense Minister Shoygu has said any soldier not allowed to see a doctor can now turn to military prosecutors for help.

Bmpd.livejournal.com published Fisun’s pie charts from his presentation to the MOD’s Public Council.

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

There are separate pies for conscripts and contractees.  Respiratory diseases, however, were the largest problem for both groups, accounting for half or more of illnesses.

Fisun also presented data on fitness for service among this spring’s conscripts.

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

The tabular data shows an increasing number of young men are fit, or fit with insignificant limitations, to serve in the armed forces (73.4%).  Most of that improvement apparently comes directly from decreasing the number of potential soldiers considered to have limited fitness for service (21.6%).

Reasons for “liberating” citizens from serving were pretty evenly distributed among, in order, muscular-skeletal and connective tissue diseases, psychiatric disorders (drug addiction, alcoholism), digestive system diseases, circulatory diseases, nervous system diseases, and other.

KSM’s Melnikova told Interfaks-AVN that illness was still the major issue for young men facing the spring draft.  She indicated 80 percent of complaints coming into KSM concern unfit men who were drafted.

In Moscow, some conscripts with documented health conditions  were deferred until fall under additional medical observation, but others were told they have to serve now, and had to turn to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the GVMU is reportedly amending physical standards for Russian Spetsnaz and VDV soldiers.  It’s lowering the height requirement by 5 cm (2 inches), and increasing the weight limit by 10 kg (22 pounds), according to Izvestiya.

Spetsnaz and VDV may soon be as short as 165 cm (5’4″) and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).  The new standards will apply for conscripts, contractees, and military academy cadets.

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops Will Be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops to be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Izvestiya was told a Defense Ministry order officially putting these standards into effect is expected in 2-3 months.  Its VDV source said the increased weight limit is related to use of the newer D-10 parachute which can bear up to 120 kg, so it can support a heavier jumper along with 20 kg of gear.

Perhaps the last, best word comes from Ruslan Pukhov, independent expert and Public Council member.  According to Izvestiya, he recommends increased spending on rear support and logistics, even if it means less expenditure on armaments:

“It’s worth sacrificing a couple nuclear submarines or refraining from construction of corvettes , but don’t economize on people — on their food, medical care and pay.  Iron doesn’t fight, people fight.”

Big Stories of 2014

Just before Christmas, RIA Novosti took a cut at identifying the big military stories of 2014.

A daunting, but intriguing task.  Here’s what it came up with:

  1. Acceptance of proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh.  That’s unit three.  RIAN also puts five pending Bulava SLBM launches, including from Monomakh, on its list.
  2. Acceptance of the lead unit of proyekt 885 Yasen-class SSN Severodvinsk.
  3. Construction of a new National Command and Control Center for State Defense.
  4. Acceptance of the Ratnik future soldier system.
  5. One-Time Monetary Payments (or YeDV) for servicemen owed permanent apartments.  It’s supposed to end the housing line forever.
  6. Flexible pricing in the State Defense Order.  Starting in 2014, some contracts may be for a fixed price while others will be figured on what was actually spent to produce end items.
  7. Formation of an aerobatic flying group with new Yak-130 trainers.
  8. State acceptance testing for the T-50 / PAK FA.
  9. Continued, gradual rearmament to the level of 30 percent modern weapons and equipment in all forces.
  10. Formation of 16 new medical companies (to expand to 50 over the next 18 months).  A special mobile medical (medevac) brigade will be formed in each military district.
  11. Conscripts from reestablished sports companies slated to compete in the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

By way of context, here’s what RIAN predicted for the big stories of 2013:  end of explosive destruction of old munitions, Bulava / Borey / Yasen, Vikramaditya [ex-Gorshkov] handover, Putin’s promise to end the military’s housing problem, Shoygu’s pledge to turn MOD property matters over to Rosimushchestvo, Armata tank and related platforms, T-50 / PAK FA testing, creation of Concern “Kalashnikov” and the new AK-12, the Russian DARPA — Fund for Future Research, Oboronservis criminal cases in court, and Zapad-2013.

Interesting to consider how much (or how little) movement occurred on these issues last year.

Military Medicine Gets an Unsat

Valentina Matviyenko

We’ve seen reports of what reforms have done to Russian military medicine, but what follows is the first comprehensive review of its condition.  Cuts and reorganizations are on Defense Minister Serdyukov, but, to be fair, infrastructure deficiencies long predated him.  Military medicine is an area where he deserves some criticism.  But it’s unclear why it was the weak point chosen for an attack on his management, or why Valentina Matviyenko was the one to deliver it.  In any event, with the most recent chief of military medicine now in prison awaiting trial, it’s easy to conclude there are some pretty significant systemic problems.

Nezavisimaya gazeta reported Monday that a Federation Council panel on the social defense of servicemen has, not surprisingly, given military medicine an unsatisfactory evaluation.  It came despite a positive self-assessment from the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU).  NG’s Sergey Konovalov said Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, who conducted the session, repeated everything critical about military medicine heard recently from social organizations, parties, and the media.

Responding to the main report given by acting GVMU Chief, Colonel Anatoliy Kalmykov, Matviyenko said:

“You gave a positive assessment, you said that military medicine is coping with its missions.  And at the same time your own slide shows a growth in illnesses among servicemen . . . .  It’s higher than illnesses in the civilian population . . . .   Is it forbidden to evaluate yourself more critically?  Stop with this nonsense, comrade Colonel . . . .”

Konovalov notes for readers that Kalmykov’s only been at his temporary post for three weeks.  He’s taking the spot of General-Major Aleksandr Belevitin who’s in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges as well for an alleged attempt to arrange the murder of a witness.

He continues with Matviyenko’s remarks:

“. . . today we face an imbalance between the state’s obligations in the military medical sphere and the real financial resources allocated for this purpose.  Cuts in military hospitals, polyclinics have created problems in giving medical assistance.  In 17 regions, military-medical departments are lacking, in 30 military units, they are deployed very remotely from them, and the great distance is becoming an insurmountable obstacle to treating military service veterans.”

Matviyenko expressed concern about cutting officers and replacing them with civilian workers in military medicine.

An Audit Chamber auditor told the FC panel more than 1,000 Defense Ministry medical units and departments (38 percent of the total) occupy buildings and spaces which don’t meet technical and sanitary norms.  And 735 medical facilities (27 percent) need capital repair.  New medical equipment the Defense Ministry languishes because there aren’t medical buildings and centers in which it’s possible to treat patients.

The military’s representatives apparently claimed a lack of money.  But the Finance Ministry’s Director of the Department for Budget Policy in Military and Law Enforcement Services and State Defense Order, Aleksey Kaulbars rejected this:

“Just purely for health care, on the order of 39 billion rubles are allocated for the Defense Ministry.   A little more than 60% has been expended according to the situation as of today.  And what kind of grievances that it is insufficiently financed are possible in connection with this?  For health care facility construction, the assimilation is 30%.  Colleagues, what are we talking about?”

First Deputy GVP Andrey Nikulishchin is afraid unfinished construction and other military medical problems are connected with corruption.  He suggests that military medical units get only 20-50 percent of the medicines they require.  He blames elevated prices and “nontransparent” trade in them (presumably in addition to corruption).

The Treatment of Private L.

Militaryparitet.com took time to highlight an article from Rusinfotoday.com on the deaths of Privates Lantsov and Tsybuk, as well as the case of the Samara conscripts in Astrakhan. 

21-year-old Kemerovo native Yevgeniy Lantsov last communicated with his wife on 5 January.  In her words, he coughed more than he talked, and he told her he couldn’t get out of bed.  

The military hospital refused to admit Lantsov because they didn’t think he was from one of their units.  It was only on 7 January that Lantsov was seen in a medical unit.  His command subsequently said that they had just moved, and their own medical unit was not set up.

On 10 January, now in serious condition, Lantsov was transferred to the military hospital that originally refused him, and it promptly sent him to the Chelyabinsk Oblast Hospital.

Meanwhile, Lantsov’s command didn’t inform his parents about his condition; they found out when they called the hospital using a telephone number they got from the Internet.  Learning their son wasn’t getting better, they immediately flew to Chelyabinsk.

Lantsov’s mother and father met with a deputy military prosecutor in Chelyabinsk.  According to them, the prosecutor said:

“If you hadn’t come to us, we wouldn’t have known anything about this.”

On 21 January, Lantsov’s parents gave the prosecutor a statement about the absence of prompt medical care for their son, and the next day he died.

The elder Lantsov said:

“No one is concerned about soldiers.  No one needs a soldier.  They’re called up and abandoned.  What need was there to move the unit right before the New Year, when there’s such a freeze?  Officers themselves were in confusion, they had just settled in a new place, and nobody worried about the soldiers.”

For two years, Lantsov had a deferment because of a heart problem.  But he was inducted a month and a half after his daughter’s birth.  His father says:

“We asked for a deferment until spring – his wife was in the hospital with complications for a month after delivery, but they told us – they are discharging your wife, and we’re taking you.  They just have to fulfill the plan.  The order came from above – shave [i.e. induct] them all in turn.”

So Yevgeniy went in the army with a diagnosis of tachycardia and “insignficant limitations” on his service.  Being ordinary miners without connections or money to buy his way out, his parents weren’t able to help him evade service.  So, the dead serviceman leaves a wife, infant child, and a 7-year-old adopted daughter.

Private Konstantin Tsybuk died from an aggressive form of meningitis, although he’d been diagnosed with pneumonia.  He left a wife and 10-month-old daughter in Cherbarkul.  The military commissar of Chelyabinsk Oblast Nikolay Zakharov comments:

“The ‘father-commanders’ didn’t worry about normal, ‘human’ conditions of life for their own soldiers, as a result of this, in the full swing of winter’s freeze, one of them died.  It’s very bad that a soldier perishes in peace time, and not in the fulfillment of a combat mission.  The investigation is on-going and will bring the guilty people to account.”

More than 60 soldiers from Tsybuk’s unit are in the hospital with pneumonia.  Over the New Year’s holiday, the unit’s boiler blew up and the boiler house burned down.  And conscripts had just arrived, and were settled in the frozen barracks.  Tsybuk’s relatives said he called home and said that he had to sleep in his overcoat.  

The Main Military Prosecutor is investigating the illnesses in Tsybuk’s unit, and has found that certain officers did not conscientiously fulfill their duties in protecting the lives and health of their soldiers.  Senior Lieutenant Igor Gurov is being charged with negligence in Tsybuk’s case.

Lastly, Samara conscripts who arrived sent to Astrakhan were living in tents, according to the mother of one soldier, on a dirt floor covered with mattresses, without hot water, while it was -20° C (-4° F).

Many of them got sick, and their commanders didn’t hurry to get them medical attention until their parents went to the human rights ombudsman for Samara Oblast.  After this, their situation improved.  The sick were hospitalized, and the others got wooden floors for their tents and hot food.

Rusinfotoday.com concludes such stories are a dime a dozen:

“There isn’t a person in Russia who doesn’t know that our army is slavery.”

The army doesn’t spend money on elementary but expensive things like real medicine, hospitals, and doctors because:

“Soldiers are an expendable resource which everyone wants to make a profit on.”

“Our country simply doesn’t and won’t have an army.  Just the lives of young men driven into slave work, sacrificed right and left for practically no reason.”

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin has an article today claiming sources tell him there’s an army pandemic, with more than 2,500 men in the hospital with URIs, including more than 500 with pneumonia.  And the military’s medics have been cut 5-7 times.

The Main Military-Medical Directorate, meanwhile, is under investigation by both the Audit Chamber and the Main Military Prosecutor for questionable use of its budget in some instances, according to Mukhin.

In other related news, this morning IA Rosbalt reported an Australian citizen has died of swine flu in Ufa.

Tvoy den says Lantsov’s unit is under a quarantine, and has 36 soldiers in its medical unit with URIs.

IA Regnum reported Friday that there are some quarantine measures in place in Chelyabinsk, where 95 people have allegedly contracted swine flu.