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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More WaPo Fallout: Senators, WH, Veterans and Pundits Chime In

The fallout to the Washington Post investigation into conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has gone nuclear today, with reactions from all quarters coming in hot and quick. The latest developments include a call for an Inspector General's investigation, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow stating that “the president certainly has been aware of the conditions in the wards where he has visited, and visited regularly,” new legislation coming next week, and reaction from veterans and pundit reaction galore.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for the significant developments...

Calls for an investigation are underway:

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Patty Murray (D-WA) wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urging him to launch an Inspector General's investigation of the deplorable living conditions facing returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at the Army's flagship military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. ...

The Senators also asked for an investigation into conditions at the Navy's top hospital, Bethesda Naval Hospital. The letter follows an investigation by The Washington Post that revealed substandard living conditions, bureaucratic delays and inadequate benefits for seriously injured service members. Mikulski and Murray are both members of the Senate's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the two facilities.

Specifically, the Senators asked for:

  • an inspection of each outpatient facility to assess their quality and safety,

  • a report on the number of caseworkers and an assessment of their training and workload,

  • a review of the paperwork requirements for recovering soldiers,

  • a report on the accessibility and quality of psychological counseling for Soldiers and their families,

  • and a remediation plan, including a timeline and description of the steps the Department of Defense will take to improve outpatient care, and improve and simplify benefits for wounded military personnel.

Meanwhile, ThinkProgress has video of the White House reaction, following a reporter's question to Press Secretary Tony Snow today:

QUESTION: You responded to me a moment ago that the administration was aware of this before the articles appeared in the paper.

SNOW: That is my understanding. But, again, this is something that’s an action item over at the Department of Defense and in particular the Department of the Army. I am not fully briefed on the activities of who knew what, when. And I suggest…

QUESTION: Was the president aware of it? Was the White House aware of it?

SNOW: I am not certain when this — when we first became aware of it. Now, the president certainly has been aware of the conditions in the wards where he has visited, and visited regularly. And we also have people from Walter Reed regularly over to the White House as the guests, sometimes in fairly large numbers.
[UPDATE: Feb 21 2007]
Tony Snow backtracked today, saying the president did not know of the conditions at Walter Reed.

Legislation will be introduced next week:

Democrats Tuesday reacted swiftly to reports that some soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center face desolate conditions.

Following two votes last week in which Democrats rejected President Bush's surge plan and faced questioning from Republicans regarding their commitment to the troops, Democrats quickly seized on a story published by the Washington Post describing the conditions some soldiers encounter at Walter Reed. "Caring for our returning heroes is one of the things we can still get right about this war, and that's why the deterioration of the conditions at Walter Reed is both appalling and unacceptable," presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said.

Obama and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said they would introduce legislation to improve the ratio of caseworkers to recovering soldiers, ensure caseworkers are better trained, cut back on the red tape recovering soldiers confront and set a timeline for repairs to "substandard facilities."

McCaskill also appeared on Chris Matthews' Hardball program on MSNBC tonight; I'll include a link to the video if and when its made available. Dan Priest, the reporter for the WaPo who uncovered this story, appeared on Hardball yesterday:

Here's last night's Walter Reed report on Keith Olbermann's program, which included a report filed by WaPo reporter Dana Priest and an interview with Joe Soltz of VoteVets:

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