Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It's not just Walter Reed

Will Bunch

Outrageous? Of course.

But are you shocked that a country that can spend some $300 billion to wage a war could treat the injured heroes in such a fashion?

Well, sadly, you shouldn't be, not by now.

On Monday night, they announced the winners of the George Polk Awards for Journalism, honoring the best news reports and articles that appeared over the course of 2006. For those of you unfamiliar with the Polk Awards, run by Long Island University, they are arguably the second-most prestigious journalism prizes, sort of like the Golden Globes to the Oscars of the Pulitizer Prizes awarded in April.

And three out of the 12 winners. amazingly, were for stories that chronicled mistreatment or abuse or unnecessary risk to Americans fighting in Iraq -- along the lines of the Walter Reed story, yet arguably worse in some cases, because in these instances young men and women actually died. Read through these award-winning stories, and you'll be as baffled as I am over how a great nation can neglect or mistreat its own soldiers in this fashion.

He goes into the details.

If these stories don't get your blood boiling, nothing will. And it's easy to whip yourself into a frenzy, to ask things like "Why do they hate our troops," etc. On one hand, it's not that simplistic. I don't think that anyone in the Pentagon or the White House is sitting around actively "hating our troops," seeking ways for our men and women in uniform to suffer, or in some cases die, like these stories have shown.

On the other hand, I don't see these as all randomly unconnected stories, either. What they do show is this, that the war in Iraq is a huge mistake, an incredible black hole, and our leaders in Washington have a habit of condoning increasingly foolish or risky behaviors -- rather than directly confront these inconvenient truths. It's a lot like the thousand little lies that an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler might tell others and himself to avoid confronting the real issue at hand.

And so rather than build modern new facilities at Walter Reed -- a tacit, public admission that many more people have been severely wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan than anyone ever projected beforehand -- they would rather let soldiers languish in squalor. Because there aren't enough troops to fight the stronger than expected insurgency, they send suicidal soldiers into battle, and they are so desperate to keep the casualty number down that they will roll the dice on a high-risk, experimental medical treatment. And they're also reluctant to drop their plan to make a contractor buddy like Raytheon rich in 2011, because they would have to admit how bad things are in 2007.

The choices are clear. We can continue to pretend that we have enough healthy troops to wage our precarious war in Iraq, and pretend that thousands of them are not getting maimed, or worse. Or we can do what Great Britain appears to be doing tonight, and look at the situation with a view geared toward the reality on the ground.

We look forward to reading some great journalism in 2007, but we can't bear to see one more story about the mistreatment of American troops.

Bear it or not, it's the tip of the iceberg, and we will be hearing horror stories for the next fifty years. There's been about 1.6 million troops cycle through Iraq by now, and the TBI and PTSD victims have not had as much coverage as the traumatic injury victims. Most of 'em have probably not been identified or diagnosed at this time. They will dribble in by the each for the rest of our lives.

The active duty military hospitals and the VA have their hearts in the right place, but they are overwhelmed as we speak, with the worst yet to come.

The DoD facilities have the money to correct things like Bldg. 18, but apparently don't have the leadership or the will to do so until a scandal comes out in the press to national attention to get their lard asses off the dime. Heads must roll.

I have experience in the VA system and am a booster for them, but they are historically under-funded. They get their money quarterly, which they ask for based on projections, instead of annually, and they almost never get as much as they ask for. Vietnam Veterans have only been starting to show up in any number just in the last few years, many times as health care provider of last choice for guys with no money or insurance.

What the VA is really good at is geriatric care for WWII and Korean War Vets. That's fine for the old guys, but I don't think they want to wait for veterans/victims of Bush's War to get to be in their fifties before they start taking care of them. They better not.

The entire military health care system, immediate and follow-on both, has to change right quick to try to get ahead of, instead of just react to, the coming influx of Vets needing care.

The Repuglicans' idea of Veterans' benefits seems to be "no pull trigger, no get food" and "thank you for your service. Sorry you were dumb enough to get hurt. We sewed you up. It cost a lot, we've paid enough. Hit the bricks."

The pols pay a lot of lip service to "the Vets deserve the best health care we can provide", but they don't seem to be capable of advance planning or adequate funding.

Note to the Dems WE put in last November: get off your asses and show the country what 'progressive' means by fixing this shit. Let professional people do the planning, you guys can't plan your way out of a paper bag, just investigate and adequately, nay, lavishly, fund Veterans Health Care Services.

The Iraq Veterans got hurt and traumatized for nothing, and you let Bush do it. They've suffered enough. There's no need to make them suffer further for your mistakes.

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