Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Soldiers’ shabby treatment par for the course
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Surprised ? Not really. Shocked and appalled ? Absolutely.

After observing the Bush administration’s feckless and amoral response
to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, how could anybody
profess amazement at its shabby, negligent treatment of wounded American
soldiers? The same American soldiers it has used as symbolic props to
ward off criticism of its incoherent “war on terror” ever since the
president’s 2003 “Mission accomplished” aircraft carrier stunt in his
Village People fighter pilot costume. Every time George W. Bush gets in
trouble, he heads to a military base. To the commander-in-chief, the
advantages of mingling with the troops are many. Besides excelling at
patriotic pageantry, soldiers can be ordered to cheer on cue. If that
sounds too bitter, allow me to stipulate that the awful conditions
endured by wounded servicemen and women at Walter Reed Army Hospital and
elsewhere aren’t what anybody wanted. Speaking to a Veterans of Foreign
Wars meeting the other day, Vice President Dick Cheney vowed “no
excuses, only action” to remedy the terrible situation described by
Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull.

“These brave men and women deserve the heartfelt thanks of our country,”
Cheney said, “and they deserve the very best medical care that our
government can possibly provide.”

I have no doubt that Cheney was being perfectly sincere.

Indeed, much of the frustration suffered by wounded soldiers and their
families sounds like classic military boondoggling.

“Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork,”
the Post reported. “The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents
with eight different commands—most of them off-post—to enter and exit
the medical processing world, according to government investigators.
Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but
few of them can communicate with one another. The Army’s three personnel
databases cannot read each other’s files and can’t interact with the
separate pay system or the medical record-keeping databases.”

“There was only one catch,” wrote Joseph Heller in his classic satirical
World War II novel, “and that was Catch-22.”

Alas, literary references are no consolation to stricken soldiers and
their families. No American could read the Post series—and every patriot
should without feeling shame and anger. What’s crucial to understand,
however, is that the nightmarish tales told there, as well as in Salon’s
ground-breaking 2005 coverage of inadequate treatment given soldiers
suffering neurological or psychiatric symptoms invisible to the naked
eye, aren’t really due to individual command failures. Firing generals
and sacking Pentagon bureaucrats won’t do much to change things.

The bureaucrat most responsible was sacked immediately after the
November election. That would be former Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, whose cocksure ineptitude and determination to fight wars on
the cheap led directly to the current strategic mess in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Rummy’s practice of sending machine-signed condolence
letters to the families of dead soldiers was perfectly in character. Too
bad Bush can’t reappoint Rummy and fire him all over again.

But it’s Bush himself who insisted upon huge tax cuts for his wealthiest
supporters in wartime. Rummy’s policy of trimming funding for military
health care just as grievously wounded soldiers began to arrive home
from the Middle East in planeloads, along with the administration-wide
mania for “privatizing” government services, has had the same dire
effects on Walter Reed and other military hospitals that similar actions
had on FEMA.

A September 2006 Army report cited by Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., of the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, found that “[h] ighly
skilled and experienced personnel at Walter Reed” were leaving, “and
there was a fear that patient care services were at risk of mission

Meanwhile, slashing benefits and denying disability claims have become
Job One among Pentagon bureaucrats recruited by Rummy from the civilian
insurance industry to “streamline” military health care.

“The military tried to run military health care on the cheap—like an
HMO,” one recently retired official at the Department of Veterans
Affairs told Salon’s Mark Benjamin. “And the consequences are the
medical catastrophe and the bureaucratic nightmare that we see right
now.” The individual stories are hard to bear: soldiers denied
disability pay because Army doctors say they’re not wounded, they’re
retarded; soldiers denied benefits because their heart attacks are ruled
“preexisting conditions”; soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress
disorder being assessed as merely neurotic. “They started asking me
questions about my mom and my dad getting divorced,” one soldier told
Salon. “That was the last thing on my mind when I’m thinking about
people getting fragged and burned bodies being pulled out of vehicles.
They asked me if I missed my wife. Well, [bleep], yeah, I missed my
wife. That is not the [bleeping] problem here. Did you ever put your
foot through a 5-year-old’s skull?” Every last one of whom, remember,
volunteered to serve in the fervid belief that they were protecting you
and me.

•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.


Post a Comment

<< Home