Monday, March 05, 2007

Profiles in Indifference

A long-standing policy of neglect and indifference creates a "perfect storm" for the Bush Pentagon.

Washington Post: Sandy Karen was horrified when her 21-year-old son was discharged from the Naval Medical Center in San Diego a few months ago and told to report to the outpatient barracks, only to find the room swarming with fruit flies, trash overflowing and a syringe on the table. "The staff sergeant says, 'Here are your linens' to my son, who can't even stand up," said Karen, of Brookeville, Md. "This kid has an open wound, and I'm going to put him in a room with fruit flies?" She took her son to a hotel instead.

"My concern is for the others, who don't have a parent or someone to fight for them," Karen said. "These are just kids. Who would have ever looked in on my son?"
When the first congressional hearing about the care of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center opens this morning in a campus auditorium, many eyes will turn to Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who has served as the Army's top doctor since he gave up command of the hospital in 2004. The hearing will allow Kiley to explain why bureaucratic tangles and horrid conditions made life so difficult for outpatients at the Army's premier hospital, while also likely putting him in a position of defending his job.

Though members of Congress have called for Kiley to step down and take responsibility for the problems at Walter Reed, he has been spared so far.
Other leaders have not been so fortunate: Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the hospital's commander the past six months, was fired on Thursday, and Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was forced to resign on Friday, in part because he appointed Kiley to temporarily take over Weightman's job.
The Army Times has extensive coverage as well - and often so tightly written, it's impossible to pull out a key graph without losing critical context. I offer a selection handle them with lead graph and link and the rest in the yellow link box below the cut.

Walter Reed woes bring turmoil at the top

The more than 1 million soldiers of the Army, deeply involved on two war fronts, suddenly find themselves serving under leadership tainted by scandal and in critical transition. Army Secretary Francis Harvey is out, pushed out the door by his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Walter Reed chief fired; critics say more must go

When the Army’s top medical officer, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, fired Maj. Gen. George Weightman on March 1 in response to problems with housing and medical evaluations of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, it triggered one of Washington’s favorite sports — the blame game.

Walter Reed topic of five hearings next week

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal involving the living conditions, medical treatment and retirement process of wounded combat veterans will be the subject of five congressional hearings next week, including one on Monday that is expected to include testimony from the hospital commander who was relieved Thursday.
I point out - again - that these issues are long standing, substantive and need an approach far more substantive than hand-wringing, head-rolling and committee investigations. However, potential solutions have the virtue of being fairly obvious.

But obvious need alone doesn't seem to have ever swayed the Pentagon - one more reason for taking the responsibility for veteran's health care away from them.

The comment of one authoritative veteran:

Read all Military Times coverage about Walter Reed Army Medical Center:

Official: Gates fired Army Secretary (March 2)

Democrats say Harvey’s ouster isn’t enough (March 2)

Walter Reed topic of five hearings next week (March 2)

Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker named new Walter Reed head (March 2)

Committee subpoenas former Walter Reed chief (March 2)

Walter Reed chief fired; critics say more must go (March 2)

Army denies patients face daily inspections (Feb. 28)

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet (Feb. 27)

Walter Reed soldier wins small victory (Feb. 27)

Gates’ candor on hospital woes lauded (Feb. 27

Pentagon names members of Walter Reed panel (Feb. 23)

Renovations underway at Walter Reed (Feb. 22)

Wounded and waiting (Feb. 17)

Retired Brig. Gen. David Grange said it will be up to Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody to provide steady leadership for the service while Harvey’s replacement and incoming Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey settle into their jobs.

“As the vice chief, he is going to be the steadfast leader in this period,” Grange said. “You really have to have Cody kind of holding things together.”

Grange said he was surprised to hear that conditions at Walter Reed had deteriorated so badly and said that in the end, Harvey is responsible.

“If you are in charge, you are accountable,” Grange said. “I’m sure they were not resourced the way they should have been.”

Grange said being wounded twice in the Vietnam War showed him first-hand that medical care for wounded soldiers is always neglected.

“When you are going to go to war, what never is financed is the second- and third-order effects like veterans benefits and patient care,” he said. “That’s always frustrated me. Having been wounded a couple of times and sent to [military] hospitals, ... you see a lot of things.”

It's an ugly fact of war that fatalities are a great deal less trouble and expense than casualties - and not just in terms of money, logistics and manpower. Dead heroes cannot embarrass the commanders responsible for their posthumous heroism. LIVING veterans, however, have a distressing tendency to criticise, to organize and worst of all - work hard to one day find themselves on congressional oversight committees interviewing other veterans who will not decently and loyally cover the asses of their superiors.

I suspect that it was no different in the Punic Wars than it is now; this is not so much a result of a US military problem as it is a problem of humans who are in the Military. Disabled, hideously wounded survivors are far less romantic - and far more depressing than Tombs of Unknown Soldiers. Soldiers cope with death rather well. The idea of spending the rest of your life pissing into a bag from a hole where the Unit Commander used to live is not nearly so easy to deal with.

This means that higher command spends a great deal of time Not Thinking about it, and when it comes down to a choice between something sexy - like Patriot Missiles, Aircraft Carriers or a next-generation gee-whiz asskicker of a fighter jet - routine care for vets and even current active members isn't even on their radar.

Oddly enough - I have a great deal of difficulty blaming them for that, since it seems to be a nigh-unavoidable side-effect of being in military service. As damnable and unforgivable as the outcome is, this is just as much a failure of general citizen accountability as it is of military duty.

Call me crazy, or socialist if you will, but to me, when someone steps up and takes on the duty of defending their country, the last thing they should ever have to be concerned about is having lived through it, only to find themselves living in a cardboard box under a bridge with rotting teeth and cirrhosis from trying to make the nightmares go away. They faced those demons for those of us who "had other priorities," like our Vice President. They deserve, at the very least, to be comfortably housed, well fed and cared for if their duties have left them incapable of anything more.

This is not charity. It is a solemn duty and a true moral obligation.

I believe that Kipling said it better than I a long time ago;
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
We need compressive medical and social services available to everyone in need - and I've made a libertarian case for that before and will again. However, before anyone in civvies benefits, we need to start here, and now. Today. Our military veterans have earned the right to be first in line, because our collective panic and hysteria PUT them on that line. This is absolutely a "no excuses, Sir" situation for all of us above the age of reason.

But, since we ARE pointing fingers at those who should have known, and could have done something but preferred to not annoy their superiors - why not fire the Commander in Chief? It is a matter of both symbolic and practical urgency that transcends politics as usual.

George Bush will undoubtedly veto or ignore anything implies accountability to those who have born the cost and consequence of his ambitions, while continuing to flail about in increasingly belligerent and dangerous ways. George Bush is in fact the single most easily addressed threat to our National Security. We need to impeach him and generally clean house in the Executive Branch so that come 2008 we may possibly be served by someone worthy of national and international respect - and with perhaps some due humility for the honor and understanding of the responsibility of an office that used to be referred to as "leader of the free world."

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1 comment:

Jennifer said...

It's hard to change 200 some odd year old army culture. A large part of the problem is that every step of the command chain has to look good. So no matter how hard the lower level leaders fight for their soldiers (IF they do) at some point in the chain they run into someone that thinks complaints = reflection badly on his/her performance and tries to gloss it over or make it go away.

Add this to ignorant contractors who don't do the job right....


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