Monday, March 05, 2007

The treatment of our wounded ... 
Now that the Washington Post uncovered the mess that was going on in Walter Reed, all sorts of tales of squalor and woe are coming out of the woodwork.

Across the country, some military quarters for wounded outpatients are in bad shape, according to interviews, Government Accountability Office reports and transcripts of congressional testimony. The mold, mice and rot of Walter Reed's Building 18 compose a familiar scenario for many soldiers back from Iraq or Afghanistan who were shipped to their home posts for treatment. Nearly 4,000 outpatients are currently in the military's Medical Holding or Medical Holdover companies, which oversee the wounded. Soldiers and veterans report bureaucratic disarray similar to Walter Reed's: indifferent, untrained staff; lost paperwork; medical appointments that drop from the computers; and long waits for consultations.

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?"

Capt. Leslie Haines was sent to Fort Knox in Kentucky for treatment in 2004 after being flown out of Iraq. "The living conditions were the worst I'd ever seen for soldiers," he said. "Paint peeling, mold, windows that didn't work. I went to the hospital chaplain to get them to issue blankets and linens. There were no nurses. You had wounded and injured leading the troops."

Hundreds of soldiers contacted The Washington Post through telephone calls and e-mails, many of them describing their bleak existence in Medhold.

From Fort Campbell in Kentucky: "There were yellow signs on the door stating our barracks had asbestos."

From Fort Bragg in North Carolina: "They are on my [expletive] like a diaper. . . . there are people getting chewed up everyday."

From Fort Dix in New Jersey: "Scare tactics are used against soldiers who will write sworn statement to assist fellow soldiers for their medical needs."

From Fort Irwin in California: "Most of us have had to sign waivers where we understand that the housing we were in failed to meet minimal government standards."

The problem? Well, part of the f*cking problem all along has been that when the Army wanted to close some bases so they could redirect resources into modernizing facilities, Congresscreeps of BOTH parties fought them tooth and nail, and that goes back to 1989.

So why are outpatients living in substandard billeting? Because in some cases, that's what they have left - old buildings and squathouses and converted barracks designed to hold troops for two weeks of annual training that were built in the 1960s.

The Army has been telling soldiers to suck it up and drive on for years. And soldiers do. And they're used to it. It's part of the job. But you can't keep that up forever. Tommy ain't a bleedin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

The Army knew this was a problem. There's no way they didn't. If they didn't have a clue, then United Press International whacked them over the head with a clue bat back in 2003.

Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors.

The National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers' living conditions are so substandard, and the medical care so poor, that many of them believe the Army is trying push them out with reduced benefits for their ailments. One document shown to UPI states that no more doctor appointments are available from Oct. 14 through Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.

"I have loved the Army. I have served the Army faithfully and I have done everything the Army has asked me to do," said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Buckels, a truck master with the 296th Transportation Company. Buckels served in the Army Reserves for 27 years, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Gulf War. "Now my whole idea about the U.S. Army has changed. I am treated like a third-class citizen."

Since getting back from Iraq in May, Buckels, 52, has been trying to get doctors to find out why he has intense pain in the side of his abdomen since doubling over in pain there.

After waiting since May for a diagnosis, Buckels has accepted 20 percent of his benefits for bad knees and is going home to his family in Mississippi. "They have not found out what my side is doing yet, but they are still trying," Buckels said.

One month after President Bush greeted soldiers at Fort Stewart -- home of the famed Third Infantry Division -- as heroes on their return from Iraq, approximately 600 sick or injured members of the Army Reserves and National Guard are warehoused in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy field, waiting for doctors to treat their wounds or illnesses.

The Reserve and National Guard soldiers are on what the Army calls "medical hold," while the Army decides how sick or disabled they are and what benefits -- if any -- they should get as a result.

Some of the soldiers said they have waited six hours a day for an appointment without seeing a doctor. Others described waiting weeks or months without getting a diagnosis or proper treatment.

The soldiers said professional active duty personnel are getting better treatment while troops who serve in the National Guard or Army Reserve are left to wallow in medical hold.

"It is not an Army of One. It is the Army of two -- Army and Reserves," said one soldier who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which she developed a serious heart condition and strange skin ailment.

A half-dozen calls by UPI seeking comment from Fort Stewart public affairs officials and U.S. Forces Command in Atlanta were not returned.

So it's not like this is a scoop.

Apparently, it didn't get through the first time, so heads are rolling now.

Splash, out


I did not serve in the military, and I have not had direct dealings with the VA system. But I heard something on the radio today that made a ton of sense: Why does Congress get a free pass on the problems in the VA health care system?? Hasn't anyone in the military complained to their Congress-person?? What did they do to correct the problem(s) complained about?? Which Congressmen/women have come to Walter Reed or other facilities yet have done nothing to corrEct the problems we are now hearing so much about??

I suggest that everyone in the military who has raised the issues of the care / facilities at Walter Reed or anywhere else, with Congress, now step up and identify which members of Congress knew or should have known of the problems yet did nothing. Congress should be held to account.
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