Sunday, February 18, 2007

Being For The Troops

The article on Walter Reed hospital and its "outpatients" in today's Washington Post is necessary though sad reading. The beginning tells the rest of the tone:

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.

I talked to some Vietnam veterans and they all argued that it has always been so, that the government has always sucked the juice and the life out of its military and then has thrown the broken ones into the garbage, that the bureaucracy has always made life almost impossible for the wounded veterans, that hope has slowly suffocated.

But the situation now looks worse to me, and this is the reason:

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."

Did you interpret this the same way I did: That these soldiers with no limbs or severe mental problems are held in storage so that they can be sent back to Iraq or Iran or wherever the government decides to attack next? I hope I got that wrong.

The whole article tells a story about the real answers to the question: Who cares for the military?