On the Latest Walter Reed Revelations: Go for the ‘Sack’

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By: Joseph L. Galloway

Let?s get this straight once and for all: With great power comes great responsibility. The President and the Congress have the power to send America?s fighting men and women to war. They also bear the responsibility for caring for those troops and their families.

It’s their duty to make certain that the families of those who fall in battle don?t fall through the cracks. They also have a sacred obligation to see that those who are wounded or injured in service receive the finest medical care that a rich nation can provide.

And while we’re restating what should be clear and obvious, the politicians also have a responsibility to make certain that the Veterans Administration takes good care of the veterans of the wars gone by– World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War.

This is our nation?s contract with those who bear the burden of protecting and defending the rest of us. If the politicians can?t be trusted to get that right all the time, what can we trust them with?

It’s the responsibility of all the rest of us to ensure that the politicians and the generals do their duty – and if they don?t, then to ensure that their heads roll swiftly.

Those who fail in that honorable mission should be rooted out, called before Congress to deliver whatever lame excuses they can muster, and then sacked. They don’t deserve respect or high office or rank, let alone fat pensions.

Only about three-quarters of 1 percent of all Americans wear the uniform. They’re volunteers who take on great hardship and deadly risk with selflessness, and for the most part they’re proud to do the job.

They’re not mercenaries, as some would have us believe. They’re not, as former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld put it: fungible. They’re not interchangeable faceless parts of a machine that eats money and spits out death and destruction.

They’re our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters; our grandsons and granddaughters. They’re the best of their generations, and many thousands of them have been sent into the cauldrons of Iraq and Afghanistan two or three or four times during the past six years.

Every time they go, they leave behind spouses and children who must make do without dad or mom for a year at a time. They leave behind families who have to live with the terrible fear that a military sedan could pull into their driveway any day, carrying a chaplain and an officer and news that will break their hearts and destroy their lives.

This week is replete with even more evidence from the press of gross failure and neglect on the part of those who are charged with carrying out our obligations to them.

The Army, in an effort to save money, has been giving soldiers maimed in combat the lowest possible disability ratings. In years when 50,000 troops have been wounded or injured, it’s reduced the number of people judged 100 percent disabled to a third of the number who were granted that rating — and the pensions that go with it — in the year before we went to war.

In the wake of the latest revelations in the press that wounded and recovering soldiers were being warehoused in miserable barracks at Walter Reed Army Hospital, the Army leaders’ first reaction was to punish the “platoon sergeants” in charge of those outpatients. Never mind that those platoon sergeants are recovering from war wounds themselves and have had the responsibility for 40 or 50 or 60 other wounded soldiers pawned off on them.

When that only generated more media outrage, the Army today fired the commander of Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, who’d held the job for only six months.

The Washington Post had reported this morning that the grotesque problems with housing and treatment of those outpatient soldiers — who must wait at Walter Reed for as long as 12 months while the paper pushers process their medical discharges or their return to duty — have gone on for years. They were first reported two years ago by the online magazine Salon, and hospital commanders and congressmen and even Rumsfeld’s wife had known about them for years.

Those who complained about the appalling treatment of our wounded soldiers, however, were blown off by those who were responsible for fixing the problems.

If all this went on at the Army?s premier hospital, in the shadow of the White House and Capitol Hill, what’s the situation at less illustrious military medical installations? What must things be like in the hospitals that care for veterans, old and new alike, that are administered by the VA?

After last week’s column, one reader e-mailed me this week to suggest that if we really want to get to the bottom of this scandal, we should appoint an investigative commission made up of 10 mothers of wounded soldiers instead of the usual suspects who sit on blue ribbon commissions and find no one responsible for problems. The mothers, the reader wrote, would sort out who was to blame in short order and find the problems that need fixing even faster. I second her motion.

Until we get this right and get back to living up to our responsibilities, we don?t deserve the sacrifices that our soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel make for us every day.

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