Thursday, March 08, 2007

Betrayal at Walter Reed - Part 3

Mr Don Carr, a Public Affairs Director at Ft Belvoir, Virginia, posted a lengthy comment to my blog entry yesterday concerning the mess at Walter Reed. His comments are worth reading, because they correct some misconceptions I had about the status of Walter Reed under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. I wrote, as have others, that the BRAC recommendation to close Walter Reed had contributed to the poor maintenance at the facility (why spend the money on maintenance when you're going to close the facility, anyhow?). Mr Carr noted that the BRAC recommendation was to "realign," rather than to "close" Walter Reed, saying that "...I don't believe that's any parsing or play on semantics. As it's written, the services and treatment available to patients are NOT closing!" He goes on to note that the services and facilities of Walter Reed will be realigned to a new hospital to be built at Ft Belvoir, and to an upgraded Bethesda Naval Hospital, and concludes with the assessment that alarmist comments about the status of the Walter Reed facility are unhelpful and don't help "...(find) and (solve) problems that have little with the BRAC list at all."

As far as my comments about the role of the BRAC decisions in the situation at Walter Reed, I stand corrected and thank Mr Carr for his thoughtful and comprehensive comment...the sort I love to receive. I would note, however, that it will be a long time before the new hospital is built at Ft Belvoir and the upgrades are ready at Bethesda, during which time Walter Reed must continue to serve our wounded soldiers. As far as the role of poor leadership and management of the facility, I stand by what I've written.

One of my friends forwarded me a message from one of his correspondents, an Army veteran who opined that the leadership and management problems at Walter Reed are simply a manifestation of the old Army philosophy which can be summed up as "Just suck it up, soldier!" While this may be a useful way for dealing with a healthy, but whiny individual, it has no place in the care and treatment of a soldier terribly wounded in his country's service. I will say it again: this is a massive failure of leadership and concern for the troops on the part of the Army's senior leaders. The contrast between the acceptance of responsibility for the situation on the part of General Weightman, the current commander who was fired last week, and the despicable evasion and denial of responsibility by General Kiley, the previous commander on whose watch many of the problems grew, speaks volumes about the variations in quality of leadership. General Weightman, who inherited a bad situation and was trying to improve it, accepted his responsibility like a man and apologized to the soldiers and their families for not doing more; General Kiley dodged and weaved and tried to deflect any responsibility.

As a 23-year veteran of the Air Force, I've served under commanders I would have gladly followed anywhere into any danger, and I've served under commanders who were little more than scheming ladder-climbers. You'll find bad apples anywhere. But the commanders and leaders responsible for the substandard treatment of wounded soldiers...and the politicians whose fiscal decisions contributed to their malfeasance, deserve our most severe condemnation.

"Suck it up, soldier," just won't cut it. It's time for heads - the right heads - to roll.

Don't let this issue die. From generals and senior civilians who don't do their jobs to a President happy to put the burden of a war on the backs of brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen without asking for the least sacrifice from the rest of the nation, we suffer under poor leadership. Make your voice heard. Demand better for those who have sacrificed their lives or their bodies for your future.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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