This Thing Called Courage

Monday, March 05, 2007

Shameful Treatment of Our Veterans-- What Else Did We Expect?

WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE FLAG-WAVING MASTERS OF DEATH AND DECEIT who brought us stolen elections, the Iraq War, domestic spying, Abu Gharib, the Orwellina-named "No Child Left Behind," "Healthy Forests," "Clean Skies," "Strengthening Society Security," and "Preserving Medicare," and the Katrina Debacle (and did anyone see Newt Gingrinch's quote yesterday that the poor of New Orleans were "too uneducated to get out of the way") that their lip-service support to our veterans was just that-- a disdainful euphenism for not giving a shit about that other class of US citizens who are sent to do their corproate masters' bidding. All the more infuriating when they purport such red white and blue jingoism, while at the same time they used every trick in the book and milked every connection to avoid military service to their country. As someone noted int eh Huffington Post yesterday, hanging is too good for these people-- something more is wanted, some excorciating public humiliation, like using them as public urinals. This is from the Center for American Progress:

In today's Washington Post, we learn the story of Army Spec. Roberto Reyes Jr., who "lies nearly immobile and unable to talk" in his hospital bed. "Once a strapping member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, Reyes got too close to an improvised explosive device in Iraq." His mother and his aunt are "constant bedside companions; Reyes, 25, likes for them to get two inches from his face, so he can pull on their noses with the few fingers he can still control." But his family complains about his medical care. "They fight over who's going to have to give him a bath -- in front of him!" his aunt said. "Reyes suffered third-degree burns on his leg when a nurse left him in a shower unattended. He was unable to move himself away from the scalding water." Perhaps surprisingly, these horror stories are not from Walter Reed hospital, but the VA Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. They are evidence not of a few tragic isolated problems, but of systemic neglect that has nearly crippled the U.S. veterans' health system. "I've...written the same story from Fort Stewart, Georgia. I've written the same story at Fort Knox," says journalist Mark Benjamin, who first reported on the neglect and deplorable conditions at Walter Reed two years ago. Likewise, the problems that led to this crisis are also systemic. "For all its cries of 'support the troops,'" columnist Paul Krugman writes today, "the Bush administration has treated veterans’ medical care the same way it treats everything else: nickel-and-diming the needy, protecting the incompetent and privatizing everything it can.

THE FUNDING: Asked on Friday to name one question she would like to ask senior Pentagon officials, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest (whose four-month investigation helped expose this story) said, "The root of so much that we cover is money. And the question is, why isn't this funded to the extent that it needs to be funded?" Indeed, money is at the root of the problems exposed at Walter Reed. Though the administration "uses carefully cooked numbers to pretend that it has been generous to veterans," Bush's budget tells the real story. Despite a dramatic increase in demand on the Veterans Administration (VA) from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, federal spending on veterans' medical care since 2001 has "actually lagged behind overall national health spending." Veterans are now charged for formerly free services, including hundreds of dollars each month for food, so the VA can save money. The VA has a backlog of 400,000 benefit claims, including many concerning mental health. More important, two months before the invasion of Iraq, the Veterans Health Administration, "which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system." Even as the wars rage on, Bush's budget this year assumes consecutive cutbacks to veterans' health care in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter. Nevertheless, in 2005, David Chu, the Pentagon's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, told the Wall Street Journal that veterans' health costs had "gotten to the point where they are hurtful [to] the nation's ability to defend itself.

THE INCOMPETENCE: The scandal of Walter Reed is also one of failed leadership, and the resignations last week of Army Secretary Francis Harvey and hospital chief Maj. Gen. George Weightman have not ended "concerns that the military leadership had forgotten the basic mission of taking care of the troops." Other senior officials must be held accountable. Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, who oversaw Walter Reed until 2004, remains surgeon general of the Army, the top medical official, despite reports that Kiley has known for years about the neglect and deplorable conditions at Walter Reed. Kiley was personally told about injured veterans who were “languishing and lost on the grounds,” sharing drugs and “drinking themselves to death,” and reportedly did nothing to address the problems. (He was quoted yesterday calling the Washington Post's Walter Reed investigation "yellow journalism at its worst"). In one stunning case, Kiley took no action when personally informed by the wife of Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) that a soldier was sleeping in his own urine. Another official that must come under the microscope is VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, who is "accused by some veterans and the organizations that represent them of being primarily a mouthpiece for the Bush administration and of being slow to respond to increasing strains on his agency." Nicholson entered the position with far more experience in politics than in veterans policy. He served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000, "raising close to $380 million for the 2000 cycle." In Bush's first term, Nicholson was rewarded with the plush ambassadorship to the Vatican; after being selected to run the VA, he promptly ranked #4 in The New Republic's list of "the 15 biggest Bush administration hacks.

THE PRIVATIZATION: On Friday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee headed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released an internal memo from Sept. 2006 describing how the Army's decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed was causing an exodus of "highly skilled and experienced personnel," placing the entire hospital and its patient care services "at risk of mission failure." In Jan. 2006, against the wishes of numerous progressive members of Congress, Walter Reed finalized a five-year, $120-million "cost-plus" contract to IAP Worldwide Services for hospital support services, including facilities management. IAP is led by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official who testified in 2004 "in defense of Halliburton's exorbitant charges for fuel delivery and troop support in Iraq," and former Vice President Dan Quayle serves on the board. IAP has "grown exponentially in recent years in part because of contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq"; in 2005, it received a contract to deliver desperately-needed ice to victims of Hurricane Katrina, but "millions of pounds of ice were sent to storage, some as far away as Maine." As Waxman writes, "It would be reprehensible if the deplorable conditions were caused or aggravated by an ideological commitment to privatize government services regardless of the costs to taxpayers and the consequences for wounded soldiers."

In other news...I have been miserably ill again. I made the misatke some weeks ago of bragging how I never got sick. I was promptly saddled with that heinous noro-virus thing when all I could do was run to the bathroom every 20 minutes for the next 48 hours. Last week I came down with some weird, high-fevered flu, complete with conjunctivitis, and have spent the last two nights wide awake coughing my head off-- this morning until 6:30 am. Oi. My friends tease that if I could blame this on Bush I would, but I really do anyway-- it's all this horrid karma they create. Who wouldn't be sick at what these traitors have done to our once noble country.
But...this too shall pass I suppose. It can't happen quick enough as far as I'm concerned.

6 Comments:

Blogger RoseCovered Glasses said...

We need to be careful to differentitate between the Active Service Hospitals and the Veteran’s Administration. There are major differences.

I am currently a resident in a Veteran’s Home after having undergone treatment through the VA for PTSD and Depression, long overdue some 40 years after the Tet Offensive that cap stoned my military 2nd tour in Vietnam with a lifetime of illness.

My blog has attracted the stories of many veterans such as myself and other sufferers from PTSD who were victimized by elements of society other than the VA system of medical and mental treatment. I, for one, became trapped in the Military Industrial Complex for 36 years working on weapons systems that are saving lives today but with such high security clearances that I dared not get treated for fear of losing my career:

http://rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com/2006/11/odyssey-of-armaments.html

When my disorders became life threatening I was entered into the VA System for treatment in Minneapolis. It saved my life and I am now in complete recovery and functioning as a volunteer for SCORE, as well as authoring books and blogging the world.

When I was in the VA system I was amazed at how well it functioned and how state of the art it is for its massive mission. Below is a feature article from Time Magazine which does a good job of explaining why it is a class act:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1376238,00.html

I had state of the art medical and mental care, met some of the most dedicated professionals I have ever seen and was cared for by a handful of very special nurses among the 60,000 + nursing population that make up that mammoth system. While I was resident at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis I observed many returnees from Iraq getting excellent care.

I do not say the VA system is perfect but it is certainly being run better on a $39B budget than the Pentagon is running on $494B.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read this happens please see:

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/03/spyagency200703

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.
The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.
For more details see:

http://www.rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com

8:32 PM  
Blogger BiscuitsBoy said...

Thanks Rosecovered for your thoughtful insightful comments-- and glad to hear that you've made a recovery and the VA was a good thing for you. I agree that the MIC-- which Eisenhower very preciently warned against back in the late 1950's-- has run amok. With billions and billions to be made on war by very influential people, it is far too dangerous a scenario to allow. Most if not all wars are fought for economic reasons; the common people have to be convinced of the 'righteousness' of this, and so some other cause must be discerned and trumpeted by an all-too-complicit media-- 'States Rights!' or 'Protect Small Countires!' or, in the most recent case, 'Weapons of Mass Destruction!' Alas, it is the common man-- and woman-- who gets left holding the bag, mourning the loss of loved ones, and paying the price. It has to stop.

10:31 PM  
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