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Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal reveals a deeper sickness

Published Mar 11, 2007 11:13 PM

A House panel has revealed that horrendous conditions found at Walter Reed Army Medical Center—the Pentagon’s flagship military hospital—exist throughout the military health care system. Rep. John Tierney, chair of the panel, said that as the wars continue the problems will increase. (Associated Press, March 5)

The attempts by the Bush administration to show it values the lives of human beings in Iraq and around the world can be best refuted by illustrating how the U.S. cares for its own soldiers.

On March 1, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, Walter Reed hospital commander for the past six months, was fired. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey was forced to resign on March 2. Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who commanded the hospital from 2002 to 2004, is being asked to step down.

It is sure that these officials commanded their positions with callous disregard for the medical well-being of U.S. soldiers. As commissioned officers, their relation to the enlisted is that of boss to worker. They deserve to face criminal charges.

But this latest case of headhunting is a smoke screen. The blame goes all the way up the chain of command to the Veterans Affairs Department and the president.

Veteran Ray Oliva spoke to the system wide problems and conditions at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Livermore, Calif., where he receives care. “It is just not Walter Reed. ... The VA hospitals are not good either except for the staff, who work so hard. It brings tears to my eyes when I see my brothers and sisters having to deal with these conditions.” (Washington Post, March 5)

The latest documentation of the problems at Walter Reed were featured in a Feb. 18 Washington Post article on Building 18, an outpatient barracks where wounded soldiers are sent to recover. The article documented black mold along walls, rotting openings in ceilings, cockroaches and mice.

Yet the apex of complaints might reveal falsified records of the number of war injuries. New York Times columnist Frank Rich reports, “The Veterans Affairs Department keeps ‘two sets of books’—one telling the public that the official count of nonfatal battlefield casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan stands at 23,000, the other showing an actual patient count of 205,000.” (March 4) Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson attempted to explain this by saying “a lot of them come in for, for dental problems.” (New York Times, Feb. 27)

Seventy-five percent of troops polled at Walter Reed have listed their experience as “stressful.” One mother, who spent 15 months living on post to care for her son, intimated: “They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don’t put any priority on it.” (Washington Post, Feb. 18)

Another mother said, “If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can’t they have Spanish-speaking translators when he’s injured?” (Washington Post, Feb. 18)

Tierney, D-Mass., said the problems are “just another horrific consequence of inadequate planning that went into war in Iraq.” (Washington Post, March 5)

His remarks are indicative of the delicate balancing act the Democratic Party has been playing all along—going along with the brutal, genocidal war while using mass outrage at the war to prop up the party.

This is disingenuous and too late. Complaints about the VA system have been registered by veterans from all previous wars and are brought to light now because of the failing U.S. adventure.

As the U.S. military is the arm of U.S. imperialism, the most important expenditures are considered those that enhance its fighting capabilities—not those that treat the injured. In addition, as complaints of ill treatment continue, more soldiers are being left destitute, homeless and/or suffering from addiction.

The crocodile tears of the Bush administration, Congress and the military brass mean nothing. To truly protect the lives and well-being of the troops, the troops must be brought home immediately from all foreign bases. The Pentagon must be defunded and all necessary resources and funds put into health care, housing and rights for all.