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MORE ON WALTER REED

 
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DMCKEON
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:48 pm    Post subject: MORE ON WALTER REED
From Wed Feb 21, 2007 2:00 am to Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:59 am (included)
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VETERANS
A Bleak Homecoming

Next year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system expects to treat 263,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, a number three times what the VA initially projected. "The number of veterans coming into the VA health care system has been rising by about 5 percent a year, as the number of people returning from Iraq with illnesses or injuries keep rising." President Bush has promised that our nation would "keep its commitments to those who have risked their lives for our freedom." "We owe them all we can give them," Bush said after a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service." Yet as the number of soldiers injured in Iraq continues to grow, the VA health care system is "buckling under a growing volume of disability claims and rising demand for medical attention." As of last month, the VA system was experiencing a backlog of 600,000 cases, "with about 168,000 pending for at least six months." "There are VA facilities that were fine in peacetime but are now finding themselves overwhelmed," said Steve Robinson, director of Veterans for American. Recent reporting has brought more dire news: the Washington Post discovered soldiers housed at Walter Reed face the "bleakest" of homecomings; McClatchy found the VA is "ill-equipped" to handle the increasing number of returning soldiers who need treatment for mental health; and the Associated Press revealed that the recent Bush budget contains funding cuts for veterans. (See where major veterans service organizations believe funding levels for veterans should be in their annual Independent Budget.) "Our veterans' mental and physical health is not something to play games with," the Macon Telegraph wrote recently. "They have served their country, and their country has an absolute obligation to return the favor."

WALTER REED IS NO 'CROWN JEWEL': Dana Priest and Anne Hull of the Washington Post revealed over the weekend that Walter Reed, once perceived as the "crown jewel of military medicine," has become "something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients." "While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles," Priest and Hull write, "the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas." The "legions" of injured soldiers housed at the facility has "grown so exponentially" that "they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army." Building 18, which for many soldiers "symbolizes the indifference and neglect that many of the wounded say they experience at Walter Reed," "has been plagued with mold, leaky plumbing and a broken elevator." Life for many in the hospital resembles a chapter out of the novel "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." Priest admitted Walter Reed's dilapidated condition was "surprising." "We think that the American -- we know that the American people support the troops, no matter what they think of the war," Priest said on last night's edition of PBS Newshour. "And so, when we started hearing these stories of neglect, and in some cases indifference, it was unbelievable."

MISHANDLING MENTAL HEALTH: "[I]t is the invisible psychological harm -- primarily post-traumatic stress disorder -- that is the most pervasive and pernicious injury from this war and that is emerging as its signature disability," the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. "Veterans' advocates say it is the number-one issue facing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan." Thirty-five percent of Iraq veterans received mental health care after returning home, and 12 percent were diagnosed with a mental health ailment. Despite the staggering figures, the "VA isn't prepared to give these returning soldiers the care that could best help them overcome destructive, and sometimes fatal," illnesses. McClatchy Newspapers found the "average veteran with psychiatric troubles gets almost one-third fewer visits with specialists than he would have received a decade ago." In addition, treatment quality differs dramatically across the country: "Montana, for example, ranks fourth in sending troops to war, but last in the percentage of VA visits for mental healthcare in 2005." Funding problems have plagued the VA's ability to provide proper mental health care. A Government Accountability Office report found last year the VA "did not spend all of the extra $300 million it budgeted to increase mental health services and failed to keep track of how some of the money was used."

CONGRESS CAN HELP SOLDIERS STILL IN THE FIELD: Nearly four years since the Iraq war began, soldiers still lack proper equipment on the battlefield. In a survey conducted last year, the Pentagon Inspector General's office "found that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan lack sufficient armored vehicles, heavy weapons such as artillery or large machine guns, devices designed to jam signals used to detonate roadside bombs, and communications equipment." "As a result," the survey found, "service members performed missions without the proper equipment, used informal procedures to obtain equipment and sustainment support, and canceled or postponed missions while waiting to receive equipment." Military families are still raising money on their own to buy their loved ones the most state-of-the-art body armor. The Center for American Progress has repeatedly called for Congress to provide full equipment reset funding for the Army and Marines. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has said he will unveil legislation next month that would set strict standards for troop readiness before soldiers are sent to Iraq as part of Bush's escalation plan. Under the Murtha plan, troops would have to be "full combat ready" before deploying, "troops must have at least one year at home between combat deployments; combat assignments could not be extended beyond one year;" and "a 'stop-loss' program forcing soldiers to extend their enlistment periods would be prohibited." Learn more about the Murtha plan here.
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