Sunday, February 18, 2007

Supporting the troops: travesty at Walter Reed

Vermin, bureaucracy, pain, and a haze of brain injuries, drugs and alcohol.

It might sound like something from Hunter S. Thompson's worst ether induced nightmares, but instead is business as usual at Walter Reed, the vaunted army medical facility.

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 Washington Post expose, by Dana Priest and Anne Hull, needs to be read in full to appreciate the shameful conditions faced by soldiers wounded in Bush's quagmire of the vanities so I won't quote it extensively here.

But one paragraph struck my eye:

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long, a change from the days when injured soldiers were discharged as quickly as possible, is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can, "because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution."

And now the hospital is gearing up to receive even more wounded due to Bush's desparate escalation.

Words fail me.

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