Sunday, February 18, 2007

Taking Care Of The Soldiers

One of the reasons Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans killed the Iraq resolution debate pushed by Dems in the Senate yesterday is because it threatens to cut off funding for the troops. Here's his quote:

"I think the majority of Senate Republicans have made it clear again today, and are highly likely to do that again in the future, that when we turn to this issue, we're going to insist on voting on funding the troops."

No matter that the Washington Post reported a few weeks ago that the administration doesn't have enough armed humvees and other needed armor available to protect the surge troops in Iraq (and won't for many more months.)

No matter that the Washington Post reports today that Walter Reed Hospital is understaffed, underfunded, and overcrowded with severely wounded and slowly recovering soldiers who are largely neglected and abused by the bogged-down system. Here's a taste of how the Bush administration and the U.S. military currently treat many of these wounded vets:

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.

Not all of the quarters are as bleak as Duncan's, but the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.

While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.

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."

This is the funding for the troops McConnell is afraid Dems are going to cut? The surge troops do not have the proper armor to keep them safe and when they do come home wounded the U.S. military does not have the facilities, the money or the manpower to help them and their families deal with the long-term recovery process.

If I were Harry Reid, every time Mitch McConnell or some other chickenhawk piece of cowardly shit pulls the "Dems want to harm the troops by cutting their funds," I would wave these two Washington Post articles in the air and say "We're not cutting the funds for the troops, we want to make sure their properly armed and taken care of God forbid they get wounded, which is why we are supporting John Murtha's plan to make sure our military men and women are properly taken care of before, during, and after their tours of duty in Iraq."

Got it, Harry? Dems want to properly arm the troops and make sure they can be taken care of if and when they are wounded. Repubs (but for the 7 in the Senate and the 17 in the House) want to send military men and women into harm's way without the proper armor or armed vehicles and then throw them into a Catch-22esque nightmare of bureaucracy and neglect when they come back wounded and in need of care.

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