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Milbloggers on WaPo series: Broken system, biased report

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By Michelle Malkin  •  February 20, 2007 11:07 PM

***update: video of milblogger Chuck Ziegenfuss on CNN discussing conditions at Walter Reed…***

I gave my opinion about the WaPo series on the mess at Walter Reed this morning. Here’s some diverse feedback from milbloggers and readers:

Smash:

It is the primary duty of every military leader to make certain that the basic needs of his troops are being met. Clearly, somebody at Walter Reed dropped the ball. I’d like to sincerely thank Dana Priest and Anne Hull for bringing these unfortunate conditions to light…

…I have to wonder, however, at the motives of these reporters. They say they worked on this story for four months. Why didn’t they approach the officials at Walter Reed as soon as they learned of these unsanitary conditions? Was getting this “scoop” really more important than improving the living conditions of these soldiers?

Injured Iraq vent/blogger J.R. Salzman, who is recovering at Walter Reed:

I have read what is definitely the most accurate story on Walter Reed Army Medical Center, my home since Christmas Eve 2006, and for many months to come. The original investigating media outlet is the Washington Post, but other media outlets are picking it up. Let’s hope others continue to do so and spread the word. It needs to get fixed…

…No one knows where to go to get things done, what forms are needed, or the SOP for getting anything done. Expect to go to half a dozen different places, getting routed from one office to another before finally landing where you need to, only to have to run around to three or four different offices hunting people down for the necessary signatures. To put it plainly, their system of getting things done is more than “broke”.

FbL at Fuzzilicious Thinking gives a thumbs-down to the condescending tone of the WaPo series towards the troops:

This article was not written to show the cross-section of survivors and their challenges. No, it was not written to analyze and dissect the bureaucratic inadequacies of post-injury care or the med boards. This was a pathetic piece of propaganda about how all the wounded are to be pitied and how they’ll never be able to function in society, and how nobody really cares. The anti-war whisper throughout is almost a shout…

And you want to talk about manipulation of a story by what is not reported? Try this on for size… They mention Code Pink outside the gates, but not the counter-protesters. And Valour-IT gets a mention, though not by name; instead, having to practice the voice software is painted as a burden on the poor addled soldier.

My God! I KNOW people who’ve been wounded, who lived in Malogne house, who coped (are still coping) with PTSD, who have had more surgeries than I can keep track of, who went through the hell of GETTING OFF OF the painkillers that turned them into zombies, who are slowly but inexorably finding their new and productive place in the world and who are putting their lives back together!

There are thousands of us working behind the scenes to address the points where the military bureaucracy has dropped the ball or sets up roadblocks; we’re aware of the monumental and de-humanizing problems. But we do not pity the wounded, we do not see their condition as static, we do not look on the hospital as a “holding pen” or their final destination. We find the idea of a hotel bar in Malogne House with a “bowl of red apples” on the desk and a Toby Keith concert all interspersed with disfiguring injuries and their emotional aftermath to be standard, to be a sign that life is returning, that all will not end in this place of confusion and pain.

But no, that view is too hopeful, too respectful of the wounded and their capabilities, too “worshipful” of those who have given so much. Better that we pity and emasculate them…

Andi at Andi’s World, who has been a volunteer at Walter Reed for two years:

Here’s the deal – the process at Walter Reed is in need of a major overhaul. Major. From my first visit there, this became evident. Over the process of two years, I’ve heard dozens of complaints. Complaints that range from seemingly-petty to substantive and legitimate…

…Wounded troops have repeatedly complained about paperwork being mishandled, or worse – not handled at all. The issues that face our wounded troops and their families are substantive, complex and many.

Guess what? This isn’t a secret.

Those of us who have gone inside of Walter Reed, without the cover of secrecy, have known about many of these issues for quite some time…

…There are movements afoot to address the shortcomings that were splashed across the front page yesterday. Actually, it’s my understanding that there was movement afoot before the Washington Post reporters ever stepped inside the gates of Walter Reed with their hidden cameras, planning their sensational story. I can only hope that the process will now be sped along.

The bungling and mishandling on the part of individuals and agencies responsible for assisting our wounded troops cannot be disputed or denied. However, as anyone who has ever filed an insurance claim, dealt with hospice care, dealt with the VA, had to receive a new Social Security Card or had any dealing with any major bureaucracy knows – bungling and incompetence are the rule and not the exception. Not excusable, but certainly common.

As usual, I’m left oozing with frustration. While this story does have merit, for every one bad story, and it is bad, there are five hundred stories of hope and inspiration that unfold daily inside the gates of Walter Reed. There are miracle workers who save lives. There are people who give of their time and money to bring joy and cheer to our wounded troops. But alas, these stories are just not sexy enough. Nor do they require covert operations on behalf of reporters.

Reader Chris hopes there will be follow-up after the initial splash of the series:

Hopefully the reporters for the WaPo who wrote the articles concerning conditions at Walter Reed do follow-up articles.

I speak from experience when I say articles such as this sometimes do good in getting positive changes, but they never cover the retaliation to the soldiers
after coverage such as this.

I faced a similar situation at Fort Sill when I returned from the first Gulf War. Injured National Guard or Reserve soldiers were housed separately in
barracks that had holes in the floor, no screens on the windows and only a screen door. The latrines were in a separate building. By the time I got back to the states, soldiers living in these conditions took their complaints all the way
to the Pentagon before things changed.

A week later the retaliation started. Several soldiers who had medical problems, including those with physical injuries, were kicked off of Active Duty. I
was lucky in that I was already scheduled for surgery, so I wasn’t booted out.

I still have copies of my medical paperwork that had a large red dot at the top of the paper signifying that I was a Reservist to any medical personnel who saw the
paper. It made for some interesting situations with hospital staff before they knew I needed surgery.

Unless the media does follow-up to these articles, change is never permanent, and the retaliation is never shown.

Reader Susan offers a reminder that the system is not all bad:

I do read your blog several times per week and generally agree with your perspective. However, I take exception with the trashing of the VA I read on the site today. While I know that the system as a whole is not perfect and I haven’t been to the VAs mentioned, I have been a registered nurse with the VA for 25 years. I work in mental health and substance abuse at a small VA in Upper Michigan (Iron Mountain). Our medical center is very clean and well maintained. I know many of my patients by name and our staff is like a family. We treat our patients as we would like to be treated.

Yes, the VA is a beauracracy and has its faults. But there are many good and competent people who work at the VA. It’s sad to see what we do, being lumped together as shoddy care in general. I am very proud of my career at the VA and the care I give to veterans. And I do appreciate what they have done to keep me and my loved ones free.

The Democrats–led by Sens. Obama and Kerry–are now rushing to help. Via The Hill:

Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are sponsoring legislation to improve the lives of recovering veterans at Walter Reed, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a cosponsor of the Obama-McCaskill legislation, said that he would explore ways to direct new funds to Walter Reed and make immediate improvements to its veteran housing.

Here’s an easy sincerity test: Where do they stand on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions to close and consolidate redundant bases and facilities in their own home states–which would provide tens and hundreds of millions in cost-savings for urgent improvements elsewhere, like, say, at Walter Reed?

No surprises:

Kerry
Obama
McCaskill

More:

Milblogger Chuck Ziegenfuss, wounded by an IED in Iraq in 2005, will be on CNN’s American Morning tomorrow “discussing my experiences as an outpatient at WRAMC, and what I thought of the care, administration, and beauracracy. With any luck, I’ll still have a job tomorrow afternoon.”

CNN reports:

Army Secretary Francis Harvey blamed a failure of leadership for substandard conditions in a building that is part of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and vowed Tuesday to move quickly to fix the problem.

“We failed here, we failed in having a facility like this,” Harvey told CNN. “Unfortunately, it’s a leadership problem.”

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