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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

WaPo Investigation Fallout: Walter Reed Jumps Into Action

Ah, the power of the press -- when it does its job. Lightning swift changes taking place at Walter Reed Army Medical Center following a series [ 1 | 2 ] of investigative pieces by the Washington Post. The latest:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center began repairs yesterday on Building 18, a former hotel that is used to house outpatients recuperating from injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan and that has been plagued with mold, leaky plumbing and a broken elevator.

The facility's commander, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, said Army staff members inspected each of the 54 rooms at the building and discovered that outstanding repair orders for half the rooms had not been completed. He said that mold removal had begun on several rooms and that holes in ceilings, stained carpets and leaking faucets were being fixed.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more on the repairs, a newly opened investigation of the director of Walter Reed Army's Medical Family Assistance Center, and more...

From Obsidian Wings:

When people with enough power pay attention to these things, problems miraculously disappear without a wounded soldier having to travel around in his wheelchair trying to fix them. But whether or not those people pay attention to wounded soldiers' problems shouldn't depend on whether or not their wives happen to meet aides to Paul Wolfowitz. It should be a matter of course. They should make sure that these kinds of nightmares do not exist because there are decent policies in place to prevent them, and then they should check to make sure that those policies are working. Because we owe people who have been wounded in battle better than this.

Wow, what a difference a couple of articles make!

  • A broken elevator has been fixed.
  • Workers are clearing snow and ice from streets and sidewalks that was making it hard for wounded vets to journey outdoors for a bit of fresh air or to take care of errands and keep appointments.
  • A broken garage door is getting the attention it should have gotten months ago.
  • And that moldy wall in Spc. Jeremy Duncan's room? Getting repaired.
The feverish pace will continue:

Walter Reed and Army officials have been "meeting continuously for three days" since the articles began appearing, Weightman said. A large roundtable meeting with Army and Defense Department officials will take place at the Pentagon early this morning to continue talks about improvements in the outpatient system, he added.

Weightman said the medical center has received an outpouring of concern about conditions and procedures since the articles appeared and has taken steps to improve what soldiers and their families describe as a messy battlefield of bureaucratic problems and mistreatment. "We're starting to attack how we'll fix and mitigate" some of the problems, he said.

A roundtable meeting at the Pentagon this morning? Yep. I don't doubt it after fall-out like this:

From the Vanity Press:

Remember that all of this is happening at exactly the same time that the various branches of the federal government, located in the same city as Walter Reed itself, are debating or trying to avoid debating various non-binding resolutions and whether the words they say "send the wrong message" to the troops. Meanwhile, actual wounded veterans are living just a few miles away in a Kafkaesque hellhole -- a hellhole that is owned and operated by the best-funded military in the history of the world.

Taylor Marsh, writing for the Huffington Post:

"Support the troops" trips off the tongues of Republicans like buttah. The likes of Mr. Bush, Dick Cheney and Mitch McConnell love using the troops as a weapon against Democrats whenever they can. But the reality behind their rhetoric is stark. ... In fact, if you're a veteran, you better not come between a Republican and his power base, because you will feel the wrath of the Republicans' support the troop pr platform heading straight on into Republicans swiftboat veterans, don't we.

However, nothing will prepare you for what Republican policies have done to our veterans once they've served their pr purpose to the GOP. Veterans benefits? Hell no, say Republicans, tax cuts for the rich are for me! Make no mistake about it. These Republican policies come with a price tag, something you won't hear Rush or Sean Hannity talking about on wingnut radio. No siree. Reality is saved for those serving, not those chickenhawks who'd rather cut taxes and send our troops into harm's way over and over again, topped off with escalation, even if they don't have the equipment they need. But once home, fughettabout it, soldier, Republicans want you seen not heard. ...

That there is currently a Senate recess during an escalating war the public doesn't want and voted Democrats in to stop, while our troops go wanting on the battlefield, boggles the mind. But what Republicans are willing to do in the face of such fraudulent "suppport the troop" rhetoric falls nothing short of moral bankruptcy. ...

What Republicans don't want to talk about is what happens after they're finished with the soldiers. After the veterans come home injured, maimed or with PTSD, that's when the Republicans suddenly become mute or say, Troops? What troops?

The WaPo's efforts have led to a newly opened criminal investigation:

For the past three years, Michael J. Wagner directed the Army's largest effort to help the most vulnerable soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His office in Room 3E01 of the world-renowned hospital was supposed to match big-hearted donors with thousands of wounded soldiers who could not afford to feed their children, pay mortgages, buy plane tickets or put up visiting families in nearby hotels.

But while he was being paid to provide this vital service to patients, outpatients and their relations, Wagner was also seeking funders and soliciting donations for his own new charity, based in Texas, according to documents and interviews with current and former staff members. Some families also said Wagner treated them callously and made it hard for them to receive assistance.

Last week, Walter Reed launched a criminal investigation of Wagner after The Washington Post sought a response to his activities while he ran the Army's Medical Family Assistance Center, a position he left several weeks ago. Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the commander at Walter Reed, said the probe by the Criminal Investigation Command (CID) "reflects the seriousness with which we take these allegations."

Weightman's legal adviser, Col. Samuel Smith, said that "it would clearly be a conflict of interest" prohibited by federal law, Army regulations and Defense Department ethics rules if Wagner used his position to solicit funds for his own organization.

You bet they're meeting at the Pentagon today.

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