Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Reed It And Weep
In case you haven't read about the neglect soldiers are experiencing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, here's the link to the Dana Priest/Ann Hull story showing what disgusting lip service is all the talk of "supporting the troops." An excerpt:

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, 43, came in on one of those buses in November 2004 and spent several weeks on the fifth floor of Walter Reed's hospital. His eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round. His odyssey in the Other Walter Reed has lasted more than two years, but it began when someone handed him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post.

A reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, Shannon was so disoriented that he couldn't even find north. Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions.

Shannon had led the 2nd Infantry Division's Ghost Recon Platoon until he was felled in a gun battle in Ramadi. He liked the solitary work of a sniper; "Lone Wolf" was his call name. But he did not expect to be left alone by the Army after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had appointments during his first two weeks as an outpatient, then nothing.

"I thought, 'Shouldn't they contact me?' " he said. "I didn't understand the paperwork. I'd start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: 'I'm your case manager. Where have you been?'

"Well, I've been here! Jeez Louise, people, I'm your hospital patient!"

The medical care is good or great -- it's the follow-up care that's terrible. These soldiers deserve better:

On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.

Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.

"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."

Soldiers, family members, volunteers and caregivers who have tried to fix the system say each mishap seems trivial by itself, but the cumulative effect wears down the spirits of the wounded and can stall their recovery.

"It creates resentment and disenfranchisement," said Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. "These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful."

Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."

This world is invisible to outsiders. Walter Reed occasionally showcases the heroism of these wounded soldiers and emphasizes that all is well under the circumstances. President Bush, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and members of Congress have promised the best care during their regular visits to the hospital's spit-polished amputee unit, Ward 57.

"We owe them all we can give them," Bush said during his last visit, a few days before Christmas. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service."

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Blah blah, blah blah blah.

Posted by aalkon at March 4, 2007 9:33 AM


(SecArmy) Harvey fired Weightman, who had only been in charge of Walter Reed for a few months.

Harvey had nominated Kiley as his interim replacement, but Kiley had been the previous commander of Walter Reed for several years. Gates didn't think that it was a meaningful move apparently, and sacked Harvey.

By the by, Harvey's experience is in defense contracting. His predecessor, White, served in the Army as an officer. He was canned by Rumsfeld because he stood up for the Army and questioned the numbers being sent to Iraq.

And now you know...

Posted by: g*mart at March 4, 2007 11:12 AM

I'm not aware of the public firing of a General Officer since Jimmy Carter shitcanned the CINC in charge of Korea after he publicly called Carter's plan to pullout of the peninsula "idiotic", which it was.

When you fire the Secretary of the Army, and the CG, you send an unequivocal message. I'm sure that more firings will follow, at lower levels. Hopefully, the boys will get the support and help they deserve. Traditionally, this is not the case, because one falls into the civilian side of government, where they punch the clock, and follow their job description.

Posted by: Casca at March 4, 2007 4:46 PM

I want every single one of you who are in favor of nationalized healthcare to look very closely at Walter Reed.

What you have there is the end result of bureaucracy. There is no excuse for our soldiers to endure that crap, but because of political ass-covering, they get the shaft. Put that system in place for civilians, and we get shafted too.

How about this - we take all that money that's going to researching things we know are stupid - like hydrogen powered cars, and put it all into the VA. And then take the money that goes to the Congressional pension fund and their healthcare system, and give it to the VA.

And then put the VA under a microscope so we can be sure that the people who offered everything for this country get something back. We owe them that much.

Posted by: brian at March 4, 2007 7:06 PM

Brian, very good point about nationalized health care.

That said, government funding doesn't work that way (ie, per your comment about hydrogen-powered car development money), so it's a silly point. Crid's brought that up before, and I realize he's right.

And, yes, we owe these people bigtime. And then some.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 4, 2007 7:28 PM

before you go about drawing an example of walter reed as an 8 ball view of nationalized healthcare, it's important to note that walter reed is shutting down in the near future due to brac. the care there is pretty good; the outpatient care, and only the outpatient care, is the issue.

i'm not defending va, though. no one i've ever talked to, ever, has had anything good to say about the va.

Posted by: g*mart at March 4, 2007 8:07 PM

Actually, Walter Reed is run by the military, not the VHA. IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.

Quoting Paul Krugman -

The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans’ medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.

To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.

More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency’s Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack “special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service,” will be turned away.

So when you hear stories of veterans who spend months or years fighting to get the care they deserve, trying to prove that their injuries are service-related, remember this: all this red tape was created not by the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but by the Bush administration’s penny-pinching.

More on the pay-as-you-go food situation -

From the Army's perspective, the meal charges follow Army rules that are supposed to prohibit soldiers from getting free food as well as a separate food budget. But the only soldiers prohibited from getting both, under the new rules, are the long-term outpatients. "If they get [the cash each month] they would be expected to pay for their meals," said Vandrey, the Walter Reed spokesman. He said the hospital was "really cracking down on soldiers who are getting both."
But here's how the new rules drain hundreds of dollars a month from the pockets of soldiers: Enlisted soldiers get an extra $267.18 every month in their paychecks for food. So before this month, all soldiers at Walter Reed got free food at the chow hall and extra cash. Soldiers say they received that extra food money while they were serving in Iraq, too, and they just let their families spend it on groceries. Now, though, the outpatient soldiers forced to buy meals at Walter Reed say they could spend around $15 a day if they eat three square meals at the dining hall -- about $3 for breakfast and around $6 each for lunch and dinner. That adds up to $450 a month, $183 more than soldiers' food allowance from the military. (The situation is even worse for officers, who get only $183.99 extra each month for a food allowance.) The soldiers at Walter Reed point out that that they don't have the option of eating at home to save money because they are stuck at the hospital. (Article at, 2005)

Posted by: Cat brother at March 5, 2007 11:09 AM

Brian (and Amy), the problems at Walter Reed are not representative of how the national health care systems in Canada or the UK or Scandinavia work, so they aren't a necessary and intrinsic result of universal health coverage. Come back and tell me how you feel about the subject if you get a serious illness and are then denied coverage, or can only find it at prohibitive prices. We shouldn't expect or demand Rolls Royce treatment on the taxpayer's dime, but imho, no one should have to worry about losing their house and savings because they were unlucky enough to get cancer.

And Casca, I think you're being overly optimistic - according to an NPR report last weekend, the person who was put in charge of Walter Reed after the firing had the same job a few years ago, when there were reports like this (just not as well-publicized). And soldiers are now commanded not to talk to the press about medical issues, which to me indicates that the military is more focused on sweeping the embarrassment under the rug than to fixing the problems.

Posted by: Melissa at March 5, 2007 5:27 PM

People should be prudent enough to get health insurance. I read recently about the long wait for breast cancer surgery in Canada -- a woman who was put off several (or more) times. That can't be good for your mental health!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 5, 2007 8:34 PM

Melissa - There is no private sector problem that government cannot make worse.

I'd rather take my risks with going in to debt than take my risks with a health care system that hasn't the resources to care for me.

All centrally-managed care systems will fall back on low quality and service rationing. All of them. It's the nature of the beast.

Another poster here talked about a "Medical Mastercard" idea. I think that would be excellent. And for veterans, we make it so that the tab is picked up by the Armed Forces, but the vets still get to choose the care they want. The difference between the Veteran card and the civilian card? Vets have no limit.

Posted by: brian at March 5, 2007 9:15 PM

Melissa, I spent 20 years in uniform as an officer. I've had another ten years on top of that in working with government employees. I know the deal. If you think that you get anything akin to news about the military from NPR, then your head is six feet up your ass. Good luck with that. Things aren't that bad at Walter Reed, but the American public won't know these boys five years after this war is over.

Posted by: Casca at March 5, 2007 11:21 PM

How can you say "Things aren't that bad at Walter Reed"? I heard all these guys and their wives testifying on TV. Do you contend they're lying?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 6, 2007 4:22 AM

Casca, the reporting from Walter Reed, and now many more vet's hospitals such as Fort Knox, is a lot more than 'NPR reporting.' Hundreds of soldiers and their families have contacted reporters with similar stories.
If/when your son ends up in a situation like that, are you going to tell him he doesn't have it that bad? Maybe a story about Guadacanal? If that's your opinion of what returning vets deserve, the armed forces are well rid of you.

Posted by: Cat brother at March 6, 2007 7:12 AM

How can you say "Things aren't that bad at Walter Reed"? I heard all these guys and their wives testifying on TV. Do you contend they're lying?

Well then, it must be true! I'm sure that the generals, like all businessmen and Republicans are evil, stupid, and venal, just like in the movies. I could really write a book on this subject, but I don't want to. Suffice to say it's an imperfect world. Nobody can wave a wand and make all frustrations disappear. They got to speak their piece, and the SecDef has sent a message that those who need to will heed. I'm sorry if the sad woman whose husband is going to the VA, couldn't get anyone to listen to her. I do believe that she's ignorant and frustrated. I don't believe that she and her husband are being short-changed on care or benefits. Literally, I'm sure that she could have knocked on the General's door and had a fair, earnest, and complete inquiry from the top. Instead she joined those who choose to throw a log on the fire of those who would burn the scapegoat of their frustrations at the stake.

Cat- Ah, the self-righteous pose, the last refuge of the neverwas. Your manhood is cheap, so you try to sully mine. When I want some shit from you, I'll squeeze your head.

Posted by: Casca at March 6, 2007 9:21 AM

I've only known a couple soldiers, but I know at least three who have been screwed over by whatever healthcare system they have in place for them. I think you are right though, it's all in the long term care. In the immediate, they are treated fine. You got shot and can't walk for a year, we'll send you to Germany and give you great treatment. You have PTSD? You're pretty much screwed and will wind up with a gun in your mouth. At least that's my personal experience with friends.

I don't know how we can solve it, but I sure know that when I heard the news about Walter Reed I thought, and HOW much money are we paying for this war? And really, we couldn't have budgeted in the part about taking care of the people who get seriously messed up for their country?

Posted by: Stacy at March 6, 2007 10:42 AM

Casca, nothing I could write could possibly sully your 'manhood' more than you defending what has gone on at Walter Reed. You claim to be for soldiers' welfare, and this is your response, 'it's an imperfect world?' That kind of officer attitude ought to do wonders for recruitment.
Tell you what, take a trip down to Walter Reed yourself, try to impress them with your service record, then tell them they don't have it too bad. Well, them and the hundreds that will follow them back to the States. Certainly you can't fault the manhood of those injured and maimed in a war you continue to support. We'll all be glad to hear what they tell you.

Posted by: Cat brother at March 6, 2007 1:22 PM

You're either too stupid to read, or your ego is leading your to twist my words. In either case, you're a waste of time and intellect, and as I said, a neverwas.

Posted by: Casca at March 7, 2007 1:39 PM

Leave a comment