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Friday, May 11, 2007

First Walter Reed's Medical Family Assistance Center, Now DoD's 'America Supports You'

I'm bristling a bit at this latest news.

Some background: One of the stories that got lost in the (understandable) outrage earlier this year over outpatient conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was the saga of WRAMC's Michael J. Wagner. From his powerful perch, Wagner, who headed the Medical Family Assistance Center program for three years, had apparently been diverting funds from well-intentioned donors to his own private Texas charity.

A Criminal Investigation Command (CID) probe was launched by Walter Reed to look into the obvious conflict of interest. [I did a quick Google News search on his name, and found not even one return, so I'm not sure where the investigation is or went.]

Now, today comes a New York Times report with a similiar thread.

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

From the NYT:

The inspector general is examining whether officials who run “America Supports You,” a three-year-old Pentagon program lauded by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, helped arrange a fund-raiser for a private foundation set up last December by former Bush administration appointees. The foundation raises money to help troops and their families. The inquiry is also looking into whether money used for “America Supports You” and other public outreach programs has been shifted improperly from Pentagon accounts intended for other purposes.

With Wagner at WRAMC, investigations only began once the Washington Post began asking questions; same here:

The decision to open an inspector general’s inquiry came several days after The New York Times asked the Pentagon questions about the “America Supports You” effort after obtaining memorandums, and other documents from an employee critical of the Pentagon’s involvement.

While the charges listed above, if true, warrant terminations, the following hits closer to home and really angers me:

The private America Supports You Fund and the Pentagon program with a similar name share the same goal: to promote and encourage the work of grass-roots groups that help soldiers and their families with things like small care packages for deploying troops and renovating houses to accommodate soldiers who come home wounded.

But some department officials also appear to have seen the new foundation as an important tool in their push to maintain public support for troops overseas, a task that they feared had become much tougher since the November election put the Democrats in control of Congress.

“What we have learned is that the American people are beginning to fatigue, even in their support for the troops,” Allison Barber, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs said in a January 3 internal department memorandum announcing the creation of the private foundation. “I don’t think we have a minute to lose when it comes to maximizing support for our military, especially in the new political environment.”

Ms. Barber also noted in the e-mailed memorandum that the Pentagon’s America Supports You effort was a “non-political” program.

Non-political.

That's what I thought it was supposed to be as well when I decided to include its web address in Moving a Nation to Care's resources section; I knew that the DoD maintained the site (and I understood that I'd never see a talk on PTSD listed, for example, in their latest events section), but to learn that this has been going on behind the scenes is quite disheartening.

Must profit be squeezed out of everything for the people at the top in this administration? Must everything be used for political gain? There are a lot of great groups who are doing incredible work listed on the site and participating in the America Supports You program.

This latest news is such a disservice to their work and a slap in the face to those of us who, against all common sense, actually attempt to give the DoD the benefit of the doubt every once-in-a-while -- even after the Jessica Lynch fable and the Pat Tillman travesty and on and on. What's ironic is the fact that by doing business in this way, cynically, they make it even more difficult for the troops to get the help and support they need from Americans.

If the only kind of support the Pentagon wishes to see us give is the kind that comes from those who favor their policies flowing towards troops on the battlefield, just exactly what are the other 60% of Americans to do with themselves? Shut up and go away?

I try my hardest to present the issue of combat PTSD with fairness and respect flowing towards all sides; yes, I have gripes and grievances against our government due to their saying one thing and doing another ('Support the Troops' in the field, but then leave those who've returned to fend for themselves for years in outpatient care), but I looked beyond those problems in order to share as many resources that are out there for troops folding back into their lives again -- no matter where they come from.

Foolish of me, right?


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