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 monthâ€™s exposÃ© in The Washington Post.
But this time, with President Bushâ€™s approval at 29 percent, Democrats in control of Congress, and Donald Rumsfeld no longer defense secretary â€” Robert Gates, his successor, appears genuinely distressed at the situation â€” the whitewash didnâ€™t stick.
Yet even now itâ€™s not clear whether the public will be told the full story, which is that the horrors of Walter Reedâ€™s outpatient unit are no aberration. For all its cries of â€œsupport the troops,â€ the Bush administration has treated veteransâ€™ 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.
What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veteransâ€™ health care â€” like the Federal Emergency Management Agency â€” 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 administrationâ€™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 veteransâ€™ 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 agencyâ€™s Web site helpfully explains, veterans whose income exceeds as little as $27,790 a year, and who lack â€œspecial eligibilities such as a compensable service connected condition or recent combat service,â€ 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 FEMAâ€™s effectiveness was the Bush administrationâ€™s relentless push to outsource and privatize disaster management, which demoralized government employees and drove away many of the agencyâ€™s most experienced professionals. It appears that the same thing has been happening to veteransâ€™ 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.