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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Newspaper Editorials on Walter Reed Scandal

A sample of editorials from newspaper boards across the country in reaction to this week's Walter Reed hearings.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Cincinnati Enquirer [Ohio]:

Playing the role of paralyzed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic in "Born on the 4th of July," actor Tom Cruise exploded in an expletive-laden tirade against the New York VA hospital where Kovic was being treated - a place where the medical staff essentially ignored patients and rodents roamed freely about the halls.

Kovic's experience occurred more than 30 years ago.

Today, a similar environment has been found at one of the nation's highest-profile military hospitals, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington. An investigation by the Washington Post found some patients in rehabilitative care living among mold, rot, cockroaches and rats. The stories also described a bureaucracy that ignored complaints from patients and their families that is as intolerable as the rodents. ...

At a House subcommittee hearing Monday, as reported in the Washington Post, Army Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon said he was discharged from the hospital five days after suffering a brain injury and losing his left eye after being shot by an AK-47 in 2004, essentially to fend for himself. He's still waiting for plastic surgery on his eye and has had trouble working with the system, he said.

"The system can't be trusted," he was quoted as saying. "And soldiers get less than they deserve from a system seemingly designed and run to cut the costs associated with fighting this war. The truly sad thing is that surviving veterans from every war we've ever fought can tell the same basic story: a story about neglect, lack of advocacy and frustration with the military bureaucracy."

That is not right. We must do better. We can do better.

From the Lahontan Valley News [Nevada]:

Why did, as some patients' families have alleged, the hospital's administration and U.S. military ignore complaints about the conditions? Was it a funding issue, bureaucratic delays or simply an unwillingness to listen to criticism? We hope those questions are answered through the House panel's investigation of the scandal, and that changes are quickly enacted to prevent a similar situation from happening at Walter Reed and other veterans facilities.

A handful of Army administrators have been relieved from their posts, but fixing the issue of poor health care for veterans will take more than new faces in the military brass. What's needed is a comprehensive investigation into the nation's veterans health facilities and a commitment to maintaining a high level of care.

We urge veterans who have endured similar conditions at military hospitals to contact their congressional representatives and share their stories. Broader input on the issue of veterans health care will paint a clearer picture of its state. For those who have given of their health for the protection of American freedom, nothing but the best medical care should be considered acceptable.

From the Waco Tribune-Herald [Texas]:

Congressional hearings over the deplorable conditions that confront wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center are welcomed. And it’s about time. While Congress members are properly holding the military accountable for ignoring the shameful way war-wounded soldiers are treated, they also must not forget that Congress also should be held accountable. Congress has both funding and oversight authority over military and veterans health care.

The executive branch also must be held accountable. The president, as commander in chief, is head of the military. He also nominates the secretaries of defense and Veterans Affairs. Fortunately, showing outrage over the woeful treatment of wounded and maimed soldiers has been completely bipartisan. The White House also is investigating the care given to wounded soldiers and veterans.

The distressing treatment of Americans wounded in war and the subsequent inquiries, hearings and firings began with a series of Washington Post articles that reported the shoddy conditions and treatment soldiers were receiving at Walter Reed, which is located only a few blocks from the White House.

To no one’s surprise, the Walter Reed brass became defensive, attempted to minimize the problems and passed off responsibility down the chain of command. To everyone’s surprise, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who recently replaced controversial Donald Rumsfeld in that job, fired Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, thanked the press for bringing these conditions to light and condemned the military brass for becoming defensive when their flaws were exposed.

Evidently Gates still has more work to do. The newly appointed commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, attempted to characterize the Washington Post’s reporting as “one-sided” and “yellow journalism.” Kiley was appointed to replace Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was fired by Harvey before Harvey was fired by Gates. Kiley, who also is Army surgeon general, was head of Walter Reed during a period when many of today’s problems were taking root.

At Monday’s hearing of a House subcommittee held at Walter Reed, Kiley and other Walter Reed military leaders promised to review all outpatient operations and fix any problems. Thanks to the press reports of the regrettable conditions at Walter Reed, the Army’s crown jewel medical center, it has become apparent that many of these same conditions exist at other military and VA facilities around the nation.

There often is a bewildering, and sometimes impenetrable, bureaucratic maze that military outpatients and veterans must navigate to receive the medical care that they believe they were promised when they swore to risk their lives in defense of their country.

They deserve better, much better.

From the Milford Daily News [Massachusetts]:

As Congress prepared to open this week's hearings on the shoddy treatment of Iraq war veterans, TV networks were allowed to shoot crews spreading new paint on the walls of the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The larger story of the outrageous treatment of injured service members won't so easily be covered up.

Part of that larger story goes beyond the military brass who failed to do their duty by those who had fallen in war, beyond the Congress members who failed to provide oversight, and far beyond Walter Reed. It has to do with a policy that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration, especially in its most egregious failures: privatizing government services.

Bush and his appointees have pushed privatization throughout the federal government, especially at the Pentagon. Privatization of support services at Walter Reed began in 2000, and accelerated in 2002 under Bush's "competitive outsourcing" initiative.

That initiative eventually resulted in a five-year, $120 million contract for management services at Walter Reed awarded to IAP Worldwide, a company led by two former executives of Kellogg, Brown & Root, the giant defense contractor owned by Halliburton. That contract is credited with sparking an exodus of experienced personnel from Walter Reed. More than 300 federal employees left the facility in the months before the IAP takeover, and the 60 remaining workers were replaced by 50 IAP employees the day the contract took effect.

As a letter from the House committee investigating Walter Reed stated, "it would be reprehensible if the deplorable conditions were caused or aggravated by an ideological commitment to privatize government services regardless of the costs to taxpayers and the consequences for wounded soldiers."

The thread of privatization and cronyism runs through this administration's disasters: from Abu Ghraib, where private contractors had a role in intelligence-gathering, to New Orleans, where a major city paid the price after political appointees replaced experienced emergency service professionals at FEMA.

It will take more than a fresh coat of paint or the resignations of a few Army officials to erase the damage done at Walter Reed. Congressional investigators must also go beyond the surface fixes to find answers.

From Florida Today [part of the USA Today family]:

Since the stories broke two weeks ago in The Washington Post, Walter Reed's commanding general has been relieved, the Secretary of the Army fired and President Bush has formed a bipartisan panel to study the entire military health care system. But making a few top officials fall guys and relying on hollow White House assurances the system will be fixed won't cut it.

And it begs this question:

Where have they all been the past four years as the Iraq war worsened, the causality lists mounted, and the military and Department of Veterans Affairs facilities designed to aid them were clearly becoming overwhelmed? And as injured veterans, members of their families and veterans organizations were loudly calling for more funding and help?

The pattern here is the same deplorable one seen in so many aspects of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war -- no planning from the start, no honest evaluation of what's going wrong and ignoring, or covering up, reality as matters worsened.

In hearings Monday on Capitol Hill, Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., called Walter Reed the "tip of the iceberg" as reports poured in from around the nation of military facilities not coming close to providing wounded veterans with proper care. The ranks of those wounded are reflected in our own community, with 152 Iraq-Afghanistan veterans treated at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Viera and nearly 2,000 from around Central Florida at the VA facility in Orlando.

Most are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, other psychological problems and a host of physical injuries in what Orlando VA spokesman Barry Stanley calls "steady increases" in those seeking help.

One key aspect the investigations must uncover is how the Bush administration's outsourcing of veterans care to private companies -- including one at Walter Reed apparently run by two former Halliburton executives -- may be contributing to this nightmare. Tragically, this is the beginning of the story, not the end, as the Iraq war futilely grinds on and more are wounded.

From the Lebanon Reporter [Indiana]:

What links the appalling conditions at Walter Reed Medical Hospital and the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, for obstruction of justice? Both are symptomatic of the deep contempt with which the Bush administration views most Americans.

The on-going scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is a symptom of the disease sickening the administration. Conditions at Reed, supposedly the pinnacle of U.S. military medicine, were physically repulsive; the bureaucratic mess facing wounded soldiers was nothing less than immoral.

President Bush, as commander in chief, is ultimately responsible for the conditions at Walter Reed. He’s “the decider.” He appointed the Veterans Administration secretary. He’s the boss. Can the administration’s contempt for the public really be so profound? Yes. And it means that Libby’s conviction should be the beginning, not the end, of an investigation into the administration’s conduct.

From the Charleston Daily Mail [South Carolina]:

Complaints about VA hospitals are nothing new, nor are scandals such as the one at Walter Reed. Perhaps the time has come for the government to consider getting out of the hospital business. Veterans may well be better off with government-issued health cards that would enable them to be treated and cared for at regular hospitals.

It is not as if the U.S. government skimps on care for those who have served in the military. The Bush administration proposes spending $36.6 billion next year on VA health programs. The government does not run Medicare hospitals for the elderly or Medicaid hospitals for the indigent. Those programs use regular doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals to provide health care.

The Bush administration should consider doing the same for veterans. The government is very good at amassing mountains of paperwork, but is not so good at handling people.

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