In Rightie World, “Support” = “Abandonment”

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Bush Administration

The House Oversight Committee and the Appropriations Committee are both holding hearings today on the conditions at Walter Reed. Michael Roston reports for Raw Story:

With a US Army veteran declaring “I want to leave this place,” a House committee began a hearing this morning at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the difficulties that casualties from the Iraq war have experienced in receiving medical care.

In the special hearing’s first panel, two veterans and the wife of a third alleged that senior Army officials failed to heed the warnings that they had heard for years about the state of care at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center, and the committee’s chair, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), suggested that the problems at the Army Medical Center might be “the tip of the iceberg.” …

… US Army Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon suffered injuries from an explosion in Iraq. He testified before the committee that he had experienced difficulties for two years in receiving certification that would enable plastic surgery he needs to be fitted for a prosthetic eye.

He told the committee that he’s had enough of the complications of receiving medical care at the Army hospital.

“I want to leave this place,” Shannon said.

He then explained that the patients’ advocates at Walter Reed don’t put the care of veterans up front in the help they provide.

“We have no advocacy that is not working for the government,” he explained. “They have its interests, not mine, in mind.”

And Paul Krugman has a must-read column on Walter Reed in the New York Times today ( you can read the column at Welcome to Pottersville). It begins:

When Salon, the online magazine, reported on mistreatment of veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center two years ago, officials simply denied that there were any problems. And they initially tried to brush off last month’s exposé in The Washington Post.

But this time, with President Bush’s approval at 29 percent, Democrats in control of Congress, and Donald Rumsfeld no longer defense secretary — Robert Gates, his successor, appears genuinely distressed at the situation — the whitewash didn’t stick.

Yet even now it’s not clear whether the public will be told the full story, which is that the horrors of Walter Reed’s outpatient unit are no aberration. For all its cries of “support the troops,” the Bush administration has treated veterans’ medical care the same way it treats everything else: nickel-and-diming the needy, protecting the incompetent and privatizing everything it can.

I hadn’t been aware of the privatization at Walter Reed, but apparently there’s quite a tale to tell about it. This September 2006 release from Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) provides some highlights; see also Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Very basically, a company called IAP Worldwide Services got the contract to provide services at Walter Reed and replaced 300 federal employees with 50 private employees. IAP is led by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official.

Krugman continues,

What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veterans’ health care — like the Federal Emergency Management Agency — became a shining example of how good leadership can revitalize a troubled government program. By the early years of this decade the Veterans Health Administration was, by many measures, providing the highest-quality health care in America. (It probably still is: Walter Reed is a military facility, not run by the V.H.A.)

But as with FEMA, the Bush administration has done all it can to undermine that achievement. And the Walter Reed scandal is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration’s misgovernment became obvious to everyone.

IAP has had a lot of FEMA contracts, too.

The problem starts with money. The administration uses carefully cooked numbers to pretend that it has been generous to veterans, but the historical data contained in its own budget for fiscal 2008 tell the true story. The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans’ medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.

To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.

More important, the administration has broken longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend our nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq the V.H.A., which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system. As the agency’s Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack “special eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service,” will be turned away.

Yep, this is how the Bush Administration supports the troops.

We know from Hurricane Katrina postmortems that one of the factors degrading FEMA’s effectiveness was the Bush administration’s relentless push to outsource and privatize disaster management, which demoralized government employees and drove away many of the agency’s most experienced professionals. It appears that the same thing has been happening to veterans’ care.

The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole narrative, but it seems that, sometime in the past (possibly pre-Bush) some jobs were opened to competition from private contractors. This means (I think) that a private contractor might get a contract to provide a service if it could underbid the federal agency providing that service; this is called an “A-76 privatization review.” This was supposed to be a cost-saving measure, although I gather from my research this morning that the review process costs a boatful of money also. Anyway, the federal employees had “won” the Walter Reed job competition until someone changed the rules to favor the private contractor.

Note that IAP has had the contract only since January 2006, so it’s hard to tell from here how much of Walter Reed’s problems stem from the contractor.

Rightie blogs on the whole have studiously attempted to ignore the Walter Reed controversy. Desperate to prove that liberals don’t really care about the troops more than he does, the blogger of Riehl World View spins objections to Joe Liberman giving the Dem radio address Saturday as liberal disses of the troops. I kid you not. This goes way beyond stupid. But since Fox News provided 12 times more coverage to Anna Nicole Smith than Walter Reed, maybe the righties don’t know about Walter Reed yet.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. joanr16  •  Mar 5, 2007 @1:02 pm

    IAP is led by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official.

    and

    Fox News provided 12 times more coverage to Anna Nicole Smith than Walter Reed….

    And that, my friends, is all we need to know. Now please excuse me while my head explodes.

  2. marijam  •  Mar 5, 2007 @6:33 pm

    The Bush administration will be forever remembered for the Abu Ghraib scandal and the Veterans Hospitals scandal.

  3. marijam  •  Mar 5, 2007 @6:36 pm

    Very basically, a company called IAP Worldwide Services got the contract to provide services at Walter Reed and replaced 300 federal employees with 50 private employees. IAP is led by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official.

    Aaarrrgggghhhhh! This stuff pisses me off SO MUCH.

  4. Chief  •  Mar 5, 2007 @7:55 pm

    Far to much meat to comment on at one time. I’ll address the Vets medical mess later. A-76 privitization is a horrible idea. I watched the U.S. Forest Service jump thru those hoops. A lot of high priced gov’t employees spent a lot of time to keep Information Technology services in house. And tyhe IT service went from superb pre-A 76 to horrible post-A 76. All of this privitization happened after Bush was inaugurated. It makes gov’t less efficient. In the Forest Service every employee had to become their own computer expert.

  5. Bonnie  •  Mar 5, 2007 @8:32 pm

    I have worked for the Fed Govmint for 30 years and I think you got the basics of OMB Circular A-76. And, the Chief’s comments are a good picture of what I have seen, too. Also, most of the Fed employees who lose to the private sector are usually bargaining unit employes in the agency labor union; so, it has been used to bust the unions in the Fed. Govt. despite that no Federal Government union has a true bargaining situation as the private sector has. However, I will spare you the details.

  6. erinyes  •  Mar 5, 2007 @9:43 pm

    Bad news / good news:
    My 85 yr. old mom passed away today after a lengthy illness.
    If there is a God (like she believed in), I don’t want to be Bush or Cheney. She will chew on his ear until he flings lightening bolts at those two ’till infinity and beyond.
    R.I.P. grandma Tina……

  7. Swami  •  Mar 5, 2007 @11:36 pm

    erinyes, Sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing.

  8. erinyes  •  Mar 6, 2007 @5:41 am

    Thanks Swami.



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