National Disgrace: ‘Post’ Looks Beyond Walter Reed — Finds Problems Elsewhere

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By: E&P Staff

After uncovering, over the past two weeks, scandalous conditions for many veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington Post reporters Anne Hull and Dana Priest on Monday take a look outside that one case, what they find is not pretty.

Their latest report opens as follows. The rest of the lengthy article can be found at www.washingtonpost.com.
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Ray Oliva went into the spare bedroom in his home in Kelseyville, Calif., to wrestle with his feelings. He didn’t know a single soldier at Walter Reed, but he felt he knew them all. He worried about the wounded who were entering the world of military health care, which he knew all too well. His own VA hospital in Livermore was a mess. The gown he wore was torn. The wheelchairs were old and broken.

“It is just not Walter Reed,” Oliva slowly tapped out on his keyboard at 4:23 in the afternoon on Friday. “The VA hospitals are not good either except for the staff who work so hard. It brings tears to my eyes when I see my brothers and sisters having to deal with these conditions. I am 70 years old, some say older than dirt but when I am with my brothers and sisters we become one and are made whole again.”

Oliva is but one quaking voice in a vast outpouring of accounts filled with emotion and anger about the mistreatment of wounded outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Stories of neglect and substandard care have flooded in from soldiers, their family members, veterans, doctors and nurses working inside the system. They describe depressing living conditions for outpatients at other military bases around the country, from Fort Lewis in Washington state to Fort Dix in New Jersey. They tell stories — their own versions, not verified — of callous responses to combat stress and a system ill equipped to handle another generation of psychologically scarred vets.

The official reaction to the revelations at Walter Reed has been swift, and it has exposed the potential political costs of ignoring Oliva’s 24.3 million comrades — America’s veterans — many of whom are among the last standing supporters of the Iraq war. In just two weeks, the Army secretary has been fired, a two-star general relieved of command and two special commissions appointed; congressional subcommittees are lining up for hearings, the first today at Walter Reed; and the president, in his weekly radio address, redoubled promises to do right by the all-volunteer force, 1.5 million of whom have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But much deeper has been the reaction outside Washington, including from many of the 600,000 new veterans who left the service after Iraq and Afghanistan. Wrenching questions have dominated blogs, talk shows, editorial cartoons, VFW spaghetti suppers and the solitary late nights of soldiers and former soldiers who fire off e-mails to reporters, members of Congress and the White House — looking, finally, for attention and solutions.

Several forces converged to create this intense reaction. A new Democratic majority in Congress is willing to criticize the administration. Senior retired officers pounded the Pentagon with sharp questions about what was going on. Up to 40 percent of the troops fighting in Iraq are National Guard members and reservists — “our neighbors,” said Ron Glasser, a physician and author of a book about the wounded. “It all adds up and reaches a kind of tipping point,” he said. On top of all that, America had believed the government’s assurances that the wounded were being taken care of. “The country is embarrassed” to know otherwise, Glasser said.

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