Problems at Army Hospital Were Known Since 2003
Top officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have known about problems since 2003, according to veterans groups and members of Congress, the Washington Post reports (Hull/Priest, Washington Post, 3/1).
The Post recently published a two-part series that examined conditions at the military hospital. One article profiled the state of Building 18, which has mold, cockroaches and stained carpets, among other issues. The series also examined the process by which injured soldiers seek disability compensation (California Healthline, 2/26).
Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, chief of the Army Medical Command, during a news conference last week said that the Post series presented an unfair characterization of the living conditions and health care services for soldiers being treated at the hospital's facilities. "I'm not sure it was an accurate representation," he said.
Kiley said he did not dispute the factual accuracy of the Post series and added that the conditions at Building 18 are "pretty distressing." However, he said that the problems in that building are not widespread and are not indicative of overall treatment for recovering soldiers. Kiley said that Building 18 is "not emblematic of a process of Walter Reed that has abandoned soldiers and their families."
Kiley added, "While we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed" (California Healthline, 2/23).
Despite his statements, the Post reports that Kiley, "who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds" of the facility.
Steve Robinson, director of Veterans for America, said he told Kiley shortly after the beginning of the Iraq war that "there are people in the barracks who are drinking themselves to death and people who are sharing drugs and people not getting the care they need."
Retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer, who commanded Walter Reed for two years until August 2006, said that there were "ongoing reviews and discussions" about problems at the facility when he left and that when he turned over command, "there were a variety of things we identified as opportunities for continued improvement."
Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) said he has expressed concern to Walter Reed officials about conditions at the facility, but his concerns were not acted upon. In addition, soldiers and family members said that multiple complaints about outpatient care at the facility were ignored, according to the Post.
Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker in the department of psychiatry, in March 2006 shared survey findings on conditions at Walter Reed with his department. He reported that 75% of outpatients said their experience at Walter Reed was "stressful" and that there was a "significant population of unsatisfied, frustrated, disenfranchised patients."
Wilson said, "The bottom line is, people knew about it, but the culture of the Army didn't allow it to be addressed."
Walter Reed on Wednesday was visited without notice by members of the Washington Post, 3/1).
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Wednesday introduced legislation (S 713) that would require Veterans Affairs to increase inspections of military hospitals, create a timeframe for repairs and improve access to mental health services, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Under the bill, the amount of paperwork that veterans must complete in order to receive disability benefits also would be simplified. The bill has bipartisan support.
A companion bill will be introduced in the House within the next few days, according to Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). The House and Senate next week will hold hearings on how the Department of Defense and the VA are caring for U.S. troops who return from war.
Several legislators recently have said they will introduce bills aimed at increasing aid for veterans and their families.
According to the Post-Dispatch, the legislation introduced by McCaskill and Obama was prompted "in large part" by the Post series.
McCaskill said, "This administration has completely failed in its responsibility to take care of the men and women who have put it on the line for us."
Veterans groups have said that the Bush administration budget falls $2.2 billion short in veteran medical care funding and $700 million short of funds needed to hire workers to handle disability claims.
House and Senate committees are expected to submit their own funding calculations this week (Harris, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/28).