Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, March 16, 2007

  The Walter Reed scandal bites back

The scandalous disregard of the vets being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has served to crystalize public perceptions of what is wrong with the Bush administration. For many Americans, it's become almost impossible to believe any longer that their policies take any real account of the concerns of vets. In the news today, I find two measures of this great sea-change in public attitudes.

The best news is that the House, in open revolt against the military legacy of Bush and Rumsfeld, has reversed the decision to close WRAMC taken in 2005 by Rumsfeld's Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Secondly, one aspect of the Congressional investigations of Walter Reed demonstrates that no part of its operations is any longer beyond scrutiny. The VIP suites at WRAMC, primarily reserved for politicians, are now under investigation.

In other words, the gloves are off.

~~~


Here is what the Washington Post has to say about the vote in the House today:

The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a measure yesterday that bars the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, an action supporters say will reverse plans to shut the hospital in 2011.

The provision, attached to a bill with additional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, blocks the use of any federal money to close Walter Reed.

Keeping open a base that has been chosen for closure by the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission would be unprecedented. The system creating an independent commission to make such decisions was adopted by Congress to prevent political interference with base closures.


You'll recall that last Friday, as I commented here, Bush & Co. sent a request to the House for an additional $3.1 billion (to come out of domestic programs). Bush claimed in his letter to Pelosi that the money would be used (solely) to fund base closings. It turned out, in fact, that some of the money was intended to fund the Iraq war. Be that as it may, the attempt to play Congress for fools over BRAC may have prompted the Appropriations Committee to take the remarkable step of reversing the controversial decision of 2005 to close Walter Reed.

Although the full House has not yet voted on the question, we're told that the eventual result will be that Walter Reed will remain open. Elearnor Holmes Norton describes the matter as "a done deal". Certainly there appears to be bipartisan support for keeping WRAMC open.

[Rep. James] Moran said the committee's action yesterday will be sufficient. "What they're saying is BRAC is sacrosanct, and a lot of us don't believe that's the case," Moran said. "If this unravels BRAC, too bad."

The language specifies that "none of the funds in this or any other Act may be used to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center."


The Army's decision to privatize some of the services at WRAMC, to hand them over to IAP and then to just watch as things fell apart as a result of the contract, cannot be fully understood without taking account of the deeper issue—that the Army was planning on abandoning WRAMC entirely within a few years. So the House Committee's action today is a fundamental rejection of the Bush administration's overall policies toward Walter Reed, and you might even say, toward veterans' care generally.

As the tenor of James Moran's comment indicates, House members are in a confrontational mood. The appropriations bill also includes timetables for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, and that is long overdue as well.

~~~


Another measure of how much the WRAMC scandal has shaken up politics as usual in DC is the fact that the House is now investigating whether money is being squandered on VIP suites at Walter Reed, the very suites that members of Congress and other 'very important' politicians have long benefited from. From a report in USA Today:

House investigators are asking "if the allocations of resources is in any way adversely impacting the treatment of the troops," Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., told USA TODAY in response to inquiries about the six-suite ward. Tierney leads a House subcommittee investigating allegations of poor care at Walter Reed...

The large, comfortable suites on the hospital's top floor are reserved for the president, the vice president, federal judges, members of Congress and the Cabinet, high-ranking military officials and even foreign dignitaries and their spouses. The only enlisted members of the military who are eligible to stay there are recipients of the Medal of Honor.

The suites have carpeted floors, antique furniture and fine china in the dining rooms. That's a stark contrast to mold- and mice-ridden housing that some wounded troops had been found to be living in...

The Eisenhower Executive Nursing Suite, also known as Ward 72, features heightened security, including bullet-proof windows and secure telephone lines. Among the other touches are flat-panel televisions and curio cabinets filled with gifts from foreign leaders.


This is where Sen. Strom Thurmond ended his days. You can bet that the mice are kept at bay. A few of those who stand to benefit from the VIP suites, showing a tin ear, have rushed to defend them. I think this story is going to bite them all, however. It perfectly encapsulates the arrogance that the government has shown toward the vets who have borne the brunt of the politicians' foolish and unnecessary war in Iraq.

In any case, I'm pretty certain that the fact that Congress is even looking into whether Walter Reed's resources are being squandered on VIP suites is itself a mark of the nation's deep dissatisfaction with the government's shabby treatment of vets.

crossposted from Unbossed

4 Comments:

  • Actually, the House Appropriations Committee this week included a simple, one-sentence provision in its deliberations on a supplemental defense spending bill. The sentence, found in Section 1905, reads: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the funds in this or any other Act may be used to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center."

    There's really not much there, but, the supplemental still has to be passed by the entire House, and then the Senate. That single sentence could well make it out of the House, but, it's very likely to die in the Senate.

    Look at how it's worded. The important point is that it doesn't even make reference to the BRAC law - it does absolutely nothing to remove or otherwise "reverse the decision to close WRAMC."

    And that goes to the fundamental point people have overlooked all through this: WRAMC is NOT and never WAS on the BRAC list to be closed. (You read that correctly: WRAMC is NOT and never WAS on the BRAC list to be closed.)

    WRAMC is on the list to be realigned. Click here - http://www.brac.gov/docs/final/Chap1JCSGMedical.pdf - to see for yourself.

    I invite all who wish to to please visit my own blog at http://carrdona.blogspot.com/. I am not an "expert" on what all it will take to right the wrongs uncovered at WRAMC. But, I am a zealot about keeping our facts straight.

    Respectfully,

    Don Carr
    Woodbridge, Va.

    By Blogger Don Carr, at 7:48 AM  

  • Don, I'm not sure what your argument is. The Representatives who inserted that sentence into the bill take the view that it will block the closure (or "realignment", if you prefer) of WRAMC. If no money may be spent on closing the Center, then I don't see how it can be achieved.

    It could be that the Senate will not agree to retaining that provision. But the article I cited also quoted others in Congress who declared that the provision would be revisited if that should happen, and they sound confident that the Center will definitely be kept open.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 11:45 AM  

  • Again, the point is that WRAMC was never on the list to BE closed. It is on the list to be realigned (that's not a preference ... it's the "R" in the acronym, as is the "C").

    Look at it this way: none of the care and services provided by WRAMC are on the books to be closed. Primary and secondary care is to be moved to newer, better state-of-the-art hospital at Fort Belvoir, and Tertiary care and everything else will go to the new-and-improved Bethesda.

    At that point, and ONLY at that point, will the nearly 100 year old complex of buildings on Georgia Ave revert to GSA. Even the name "Walter Reed" will be "realigned," if you will, as in "Walter Reed National Military Medical Center" consisting of two major, world-class medical facilities.

    If, God forbid, we're still at war when the law says the realignment is to be completed, Walter Reed will still be with us. Everything uttered by anyone these past two weeks about, "How can they possibly close Walter Reed in a time of war?" reveals someone who simply isn't paying attention, and who hopes to garner political favor.

    Walter Reed is not going to close under the BRAC 2005 legislation. So, what is achieved by all this racket and political maneuvering?

    By Blogger Don Carr, at 1:14 PM  

  • Don,

    When people talk about "closing" WRAMC, they're talking about shutting down THIS FACILITY that we call Walter Reed.

    I know perfectly well that BRAC decided to fold the responsibilities of the current WRAMC into other hospitals. You may go along with their terminology if you wish, and call that "realignment". You may even pretend that Walter Reed will continue to exist because the name won't be retired.

    But the fact of the matter, in plain English, is that the large, critical facility in DC is being closed. Further, whether or not the other expanded facilities will be able to tend to all the patients who will be displaced from WRAMC, the basic fact remains that this is being done while the country is engaged in a prolonged war. The process of "realigning" the Center almost inevitably means disruptions, loss of bugetary prominance, and loss of staff of the sort that WRAMC has suffered.

    You seem to envisage an idealized transition in which the care provided by WRAMC will simply be wisked off to newer and better facilities, with patients suffering not at all for it. The truth on the ground is rather different, it seems.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 12:27 AM  

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