Portney’s Complaint

Portneys Complaint

Portney’s Complaint

Devon Portney

Almost two weeks after The Washington Post first reported the conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital, the general in charge has been fired and the hospital is closing. The infamous Building 18, which housed over 80 wounded and recovering soldiers, was nearly falling apart.

Building 18 was suffering from mold, leaks, rot, mice, cockroaches and other vermin. While two weeks may already seem too long a time for the problem to be rectified, it may have been longer. Those investigating the poor conditions at Walter Reed have speculated that Reed’s commander, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, and other army officials knew about the poor conditions previously and allowed them to continue.

In most aspects of life including health care, whomever has the money gets the prize. Those with the best healthcare (a.k.a. the most money) receive the best accommodations, most attentive care and can stay in the hospital much longer. However, veterans give their limbs and lives for their country, and should receive the best medical care by default.

The president claims to visit military hospitals all the time; I wonder just how these poor conditions slipped his peripheral vision. Did he choose to ignore the conditions of the building, hoping the soldiers would just be “so thrilled to meet the president,” that they wouldn’t care their wounds were being dressed next to falling mold? Perhaps when being guided through the facilities, officials simply steered Bush away from Building 18. And being the tenacious, inquisitive mind that he is Bush probably shrugged his shoulders and thought, “Eh, that’s probably where they keep the lawn mowers.”

The poor physical conditions of Walter Reed and Building 18 are now a thing of the past, as they have been closed. Granted, there are surely other military hospitals using facilities that are severely under par, but there is an even more pressing issue that faces Walter Reed and every other army hospital throughout the country. It’s called bureaucracy.

Veterans groups and members of both Democrat and Republican Congress had been protesting and investigating the problems in the dysfunctional bureaucracy soldiers experienced at Walter Reed (and certainly at other hospitals). Military hospitals handle a large number of outpatients seen on a regular basis, who live on or near the hospital grounds. These are veterans living in depressing, substandard housing, experiencing severe mental depression, usually battling drug or alcohol addiction and wrestling with tendencies towards suicide. While they are getting some limited care at the hospitals they go to, there is nothing in the form of long term psychological care, or even short term for that matter. Most mental difficulties and substance abuse is treated with indifference, and disregarded by the hospitals as a real problem. There are also bureaucratic issues of lost paperwork, uncaring, untrained staff, “lost” appointments from computers and laboriously long waits for medical consultations. It is this same brand of bureaucracy that allowed the physical conditions of the hospital to continue as long as they did.

Unfortunately, we know Walter Reed is not the only military hospital in the country. And Walter Reed was considered the best, the apple of the military medical facility’s eye. If that’s the case, the conditions at other hospitals must be absolutely unlivable. Yet veterans, men and women who have fought and lost limbs and other physical capabilities, are forced to live there while they recover.

Since the Walter Reed scandal has been brought to light, many soldiers who have stayed in other military hospitals around the country have come forward to share their stories of horrible conditions and treatment at the facilities. Veterans, family members and even doctors and nurses within the system have all verified stories of poor care and outright neglect. Veterans all experience the same bureaucratic nonsense as well: lost paperwork, untrained staff, and little or no response to mental distress.

Mr. President, if you are going to spend billions and billions of dollars on this war, don’t you think some of that should be budgeted towards taking care of the people who fight in the war? Apparently, not.