The Shame of Walter Reed


Two centuries ago, this medical army officer confirmed that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitos. His discovery created a whole new line of defenses against disease and pushed medical research in entirely new and productive directions. His findings also allowed the Panama Canal to be built. (Disease was attacking construction troops so badly, that all work had stopped) The good Doctor Reed would be turning in his grave at the moment. The medical center named for him is the site of something offal. As in rotten.

It is bad enough to warehouse our wounded boys and girls in roach-filled, rodent-infested, filthy buildings – even though the general in charge of the facility Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, chief of the Army Medical Command, knew of the horrific conditions months ago. Last Thursday, the general claimed that Washington Post’s coverage of these problems “presented an unfair characterization of the living conditions and health care services for soldiers being treated at the hospital’s facilities”.

Right, General. Save it for a congressional committee.

What is worse is that the soldiers who dared talk to two intrepid Washington Post reporters are now being punished.

The soldiers are not only barred from any contact with reporters, they have been ordered to play mickey mouse soldier games each morning, getting up at 6am and having an inspection at 7. Even better, the building which caused the uproar is being emptied and all patients being moved on base so Joe 6-pack and the media won’t have a chance to talk to them. Hiding the evidence, are we, General? I am sure our national security totally relies on wounded soldiers being force awake for inspection that early each morning.

How can we be surprised at this latest turn of events? After all, the entire administration has been brilliant at hiding damaging reports (the infamous Friday news dump), turning public facts into state secrets and even changing how war and its deadly results have been reported (the embed program, banning photos of US corpses and coffins, and now, banning legless vets from photos ops as too disturbing for American eyes).

The better question might be “How could we expect anything different from our military leaders?” After all, for the past five years, Don Rumsfeld did his utmost to cull independent, honest and ethical top officers from the Pentagon, replacing them with what he thought was an obedient group of sycophants. Luckily, we know that at least 5 of them intend to stand up to the idea of an Iranian invasion.

But as for the others, Lt. General Kiley in particular, it seems as though Mr. Rumsfeld was extremely successful. Kiley’s response to this fiasco is identical to the administration he serves. If there is bad news, hide it, get rid of the press, and don’t let any more news be made on the issue.

These soldiers have lost legs, arms, hearing, eyesight, and more. All too many of them suffer from head injuries and mental illnesses such as PTSD. To treat these boys and girls like children, to increase their suffering through bullying tactics, and to directly order them NOT to talk to the press, a direct violation of their constitutional rights – this is not the reaction of a professional military officer, but of something rather repulsive.

If you can believe it, the story is actually worse than it sounds. Take a look here:

US military medical reviewers are treating our soldiers on the cheap. They force truly disabled soldiers to settle for miniscule settlements – and NO MEDICAL COVERAGE. PTSD in particular seems to have been erased from the lexicon and the DSM-IV of Walter Reed and other facilities.

Support our troops? How about treating them right in the first place, then analyzing their conditions accurately, and not with the bottom line in mind? And lastly, how about follow up care for those who really need it? Because it ain’t happening. Suicides are up among IraqNami vets and there are rumors that the Bush Administration is doing its utmost to keep that news out of the press. Only anecdotal reports filter through, but even those are extremely disturbing.

If we were a civilized nation (something I am seriously beginning to doubt) we would be treating our fallen soldiers with respect, TLC and adequate medicine, psych care and rehab. Anything less is an insult to them all. Support the troops? You bet, but it turns out that our administration and their appointed leaders don’t seem to get that point.

Here are a few steps we might consider:

a) Get our troops out of IraqNam. Now. Not October 2008. Not 10 years from now. NOW.

b) Demote, then fire Lt. General Kiley. His past knowledge is enough to wonder whether this man is capable to fullfilling his military oath. Sergeant ought to do it. He can replace the only man (a lowly sergeant) being punished for dereliction of duty at Walter Reed.

c) Drop the gag order. If we can’t find out the truth of this mess, how can we demand that it be fixed?

d) FIX THE DAMN SYSTEM. Treat the wounded, provide follow up care and dammit, rate their disabilities honestly for a change.

(Robert Kezelis is a lawyer, sculptor and writing curmudgeon based south of Chicago.)