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Feb 18, 2007

Just Beneath The Surface

Bldg18

After a four month investigation on the quiet, WAPO offers an inside look at outpatient conditions at Walter Reed hospital.

What we see in the article and slide show is alarming, if not surprising.  According to the report, Walter Reed has over 700 outpatient Iraq veterans in its care.  These soldiers have been released from hospital beds, but either continue to require treatment. or are caught in a limbo between reassignment and discharge.  This population, outnumbering formal hospital patients 17 to 1, is mostly housed in local apartments or leased hotel rooms.

The slideshow mostly features visibly injured vets, emphasizing their inferior medical management or bureaucratic treatment. The shot above is an exception, however.  The article focuses on one location, Building 18, an old lodge just beyond the hospital.  Pointing out a severe infestation of mold is occupant Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who returned from Iraq with severe injuries, including a broken neck.

This image is the perfect metaphor for a facility with a stellar name which is festering underneath.  WAPO drives home the point with a quote from Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, head of a House committee which has investigated problems at Walter Reed.  Says Davis: "Even the stuff they've fixed has only been patched."

If you consider how many other facets of the war the phrase applies to, the pictures should only keep coming.

(image: Michel du Cille - The Washington Post.  February 18, 2007.  washingtonpost.com. h/t: thinkprogress.com)

Comments

What a disgrace... Did Halliburton get the contract for repairing and maintaining this facility?

This story is so disgusting I haven't been able to read through the entire thing yet. It makes me weep.

Our daughter and son-in-law are currently living with our other daughter because their home had a hidden water leak, resulting in a mold and mildew problem. They had both been sick constantly since they moved in the house. Now we know why - the mold.

And they expect these soldiers, who aren't in the best shape physically to begin with, to live under these circumstances???!!!

This is beyond appalling.

Bag, wasn't Walter Reed to be closed?

I've read the two segments published so far and they are excellent. Today's portion is enraging. The VA has been underfunded consistently under this administration and that is just in terms of its baseline needs. Now, with this war, it is overwhelmed. The sorts of injuries these soldiers in this report have will require lifetime care. Some will need to be institutionalized either full-time or periodically. Most of them will not be able to work or care for their families, let alone themselves.

How does the military deal with this? By finding some types of disabilities to be "pre-existing conditions" and therefore, not the VA's responsibility. The types of disabilities Priest says are labeled "pre-existing conditions" -- mental slowness, depression -- are the sorts of conditions that may well have led to these men and women looking to enlistment as their only means of making their way in the world. The Army told them these conditions were no impediment to serving and promised them things like training and funding for college.

This story is not just about a broken VA system. It is an indictment of a failing social system.


Aunt Deb - I seriously doubt many enlistees join the army because they are too depressed or slow to make it in civilian life.
You don't know too many soldiers, do you?

The facilities look way below standard; what next: enlisting children?

I read two of these articles, and it's unbelievable how these men and women are being treated. Not only the crappy facilities, but the daily frustrations. And especially being discharged with ratings of zero disability - what's a young guy who can't function going to be able to do for himself?

They took Dell, but after his head injury in Iraq, they told him that he was slow to begin with and that his problems weren't from the head injury? And the Spanish-speaking patients can't find translators, but there were Spanish-speaking recruiters to convince them to join? The guys whose uniforms were cut away by medics at the scene of their injuries and who haven't been able to get new uniforms?

Interesting to meet up with Bryan Anderson, the triple amputee, again.

I don't want to stereotype all Vietnam veterans, but certainly many Vietnam vets never fully recovered from their experiences, and I can't imagine that these people, with their physical and mental disabilities, aren't going to have the same kinds of problems.

The hypocrisy of the top brass, including the commander-in-chief, about "supporting the troops" is mind-boggling. In some countries, this would be an outrage, and heads would roll, but is there any accountability in Washington?

And how many people have known about this - in the military and in Congress? Maybe these articles will trigger some kind of change, but why does it have to take an undercover investigation?

i've read both of the articles, and while i believe the reporting is excellent, there are several important issues that were left out -- important to contextualize the situation.

1) because of bush's refusal to institute the draft, the army is cannibalizing itself. everyone from kitchen to clerical staff are being sent to the front lines in iraq as infantry. the support staff to handle the outpatients no longer exists within the army (don't even get me started about navy medical), and civilian hiring can be a lengthy process.

2) as sunday's article obliquely mentioned, more soldiers are kept at walter reed as outpatients in the hope that they can be sent back out to fight. again, nice way for bush to avoid instituting the draft.

3) once again, because of the refusal to institute the draft in the face of massive non-fatal casualties, the army has been forced to lower its standards to meet its (lowered) recruiting goals. this has meant that the education requirements, IQ requirements, and age requirements have all been lowered (raised, in the case of the max age). additionally, recruiters are under pressure to make their quotas, and will often deliberately mislead or lie to potential recruits -- often in issues having to do with mental health. because diagnosed, medicated schizophrenics cannot be legally recruited (similarly those suffering from severe bipolar disorder), recruiters tell them to stop taking their medication and keep hush-hush on their conditions. IMO, these recruiters should be dishonorably discharged, but that doesn't seem to be happening.

4) walter reed's medical staff is stretched to the point of breaking. the active duty docs get rotated through the sandbox just like everyone else - some are on their second or third tours - and unlike the regular grunt who gets the (admittedly minimal) respite between tours of returning to a non-combat post, the docs keep doing what they were doing in theater - amputations, psychotherapy, you name it. they don't get any rest.

5) the current situation sets up a conflict between the recruiters and the doctors, with the GIs stuck in the middle. many soldiers are illegally recruited with pre-existing disorders, and when these are exacerbated (or simply show up) in iraq, the doctors have to adhere to the military regs whether they like it or not. many of the docs fight tooth and nail for their patients, and all for naught. they're all being ground up by the bureaucracy.

back to the question of walter reed being scheduled as a test closure for BRAC - there are officers higher in the chain of command who think it's the stupidest idea in the world. walter reed, as unbelievable as this may seem, is leaps and bounds ahead of navy medical (bethesda) in capacity to handle the casualties of war. and yet the plan is to close walter reed, build a new hospital on the bethesda grounds, and consolidate the medical corps -- under the navy.

of course, montgomery county hasn't approved any plans, i'm fairly sure that plans for a new hospital facility haven't been drawn up, and the feds and the district government are at loggerheads over what to do with the walter reed campus. we are witnessing a system that is hanging together by the barest of threads.

Chimproller, not only did you misread my comment but you also think you have the right to accuse me of ignorance. I don't know you so I won't make up a reason for your behavior. However, I suggest that if you wish to defend soldiers, you turn your tongue on those who are actually doing them disservice. I am not one of those people.

Given the illusions of this ill conceived adventure in Iraq, its logical that this branch of service is unable to cope with the tragic consequences which continue to surface and can only get worse.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
(Matthew 23:27-28)

May our MSM continue to extend that little bit of effort to peel back the surface, falling off as it is.

Aunt Deb
Those who are not fulfilling their responsibility to take care of these proud soldiers are dispicable, and should be exposed and held accountable.
However, those who use this deplorable situation as a soapbox for "indicting a failing social system" are not much better.
Lets talk about how we can help our messed-up vets, not use them as just another opportunity to bad-mouth our "failing social system" (whatever that means).

I'd like to focus on the visual aspects of the image you posted for a moment. This is probably my art school training rearing its' ugly head, but my first impression of the photo was that an artist was showing off a piece that he had cultivated (pun intended, with the mold and all) in a performance/and/or/critique that spoke to the inherant beauty of life left unbridled. The almost punk rock demeanor of the soldier only adds to the "artist's mystique" in this context. Of course this is nowhere near to the reality that is going on in the picture, but I find it depressing to think that the state of our military hospitals has degraded to the point that I can look at a photo of their facilites and mistake it for contemporary art. Our soldiers deserve better. I would be even more pissed about this than I already am if one of my family members were forced to be healed in that kind of "treatment".

P.S. to The Bag: Love your site; Keep up the good work.

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