When the story first came out, it didn’t look like much.
Just a few problems that needed correction: a little mold here, a few repairs
there, the inevitable complaints from disgruntled patients. But two and a half
weeks after the Washington Post ran a little story by reporters Dana Priest and
Anne Hull titled “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army’s Top Medical
Facility“ the Walter Reed scandal has become without question the top story in the country.
Today, Priest and Hull return with another lengthy piece examining
conditions in the military healthcare system in other parts of the country titled
“Walter Reed Not an isolated case.” The two reporters say that after their initial story ran they were contacted by "literally hundreds of soldiers" from around the
country with similar stories to share. The pair writes:
outpatients are currently in the military’s Medical Holding or Medical Holdover
companies, which oversee the wounded. Soldiers and veterans report bureaucratic
disarray similar to Walter Reed’s: indifferent, untrained staff; lost
paperwork; medical appointments that drop from the computers; and long waits
That appears to answer a question that many people had been wondering about. As New York Democrat Charles Schumer put it over the weekend “if it’s
this bad at the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed, how is it in the rest of the country?” On Sunday,
Schumer called for a bipartisan commission – possibly to be headed by former
secretary of state Colin Powell – to examine conditions facing returning
service men and women.
Predictably, conservative critics around the blogosphere are
pointing at the debacle as evidence that any government run healthcare system
would be a disaster. Kevin MD writes: “What’s happening at Walter Reed is small
sample of how government-run health care would turn out. Does the public understand
the implications of a nationally-run health care system?”
"Will the Bush-bashers join with free-market critics to effect real change and
help the troops who need and deserve better care? We’ll see," writes Michelle Malkin.
On THCB Eric Novack follows along in the same vein, writing: “legislators and bureaucrats have been made
aware of some of these problems for years and years. And yet, nothing
significant has changed. The missing interpretation: the absolute fundamental
inability for government-run organizations to escape convoluted, bureaucratic,
non-meritorious based hierarchies. Anyone still for VA care for all of the USA
But not everybody agrees. On the other side of the
aisle, many Democrats are arguing that privatization is to blame for the problems found at the base. Many are
pointing at an internal memo from Walter Reed garrison Commander Peter
Garibaldi to Weightman that allegedly detailed specific problems at the facility, weeks before
the Post report. (You can read the actual memo here.)
memorandum “describes how the Army’s decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was causing an exodus of ‘highly skilled
and experienced personnel,’” the committee’s letter states. “According to
multiple sources, the decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed led
to a precipitous drop in support personnel at Walter Reed.” The letter said Walter Reed also awarded a
five-year, $120-million contract to IAP Worldwide Services, which is run by Al
Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official.
The Walter Reed scandal has already provoked a massive outpouring of
commentary on editorial pages, blogs and news sites. A few more highlights:
Reporters at Salon.com are angry.They’re saying they ran
the Walter Reed story first, way back in 2003. They’re not accusing the Post
of plagiarism. Or are they? It’s hard to
Washington Post ombudsman (shouldn’t it be ombudsperson?)
Deborah Powell has some of the back story on the reporting that broke the
Building 18 story.
But aren’t the
problems at Walter Reed the sort of thing that can happen at any large
organization if the people at the top lose touch? I can’t help but think that
Philip Carter’s commentary “Walter Reed and the Reverse BS Filtration System,” which
ran in Slate last week, should be required reading for every business student
in the country.
problems also illustrate just how bad the Army has gotten at passing
information—particularly negative information—up and down its chain of command.
Typically, subordinate units submit reports on a daily, weekly, and monthly
basis to their headquarters. At each level of command, these reports get
filtered, collated, combined, and resynthesized. Like the children’s game of
telephone, the message frequently changes in transmission. The result can be a
terribly distorted picture of reality at the higher echelons of command.”
Major problems get
renamed "obstacles," or "challenges," or some other noun
that connotes a temporary delay in forward progress, reflecting the pervasive
"can do" optimism of the military officer corps. Staff officers at
each level of command refine and insert caveats into reports to ensure they
don’t rock the boat too much. By the time information reaches a senior
commander or civilian official, it no longer reflects reality.