International Herald Tribune Editorial - Wounded and abandoned
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 23, 2007
When the U.S. Senate next debates whether to debate the Iraq war, members would do well to visit the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, just five miles to the north. There they can run a stark reality check on how the country is failing the war's wounded despite all those Capitol orations about unstinting support of our fighting troops.
As fine as the surgery wards have been through a five-year torrent of battle casualties, Walter Reed has seen the shameful growth of a parallel village of almost 700 traumatized and maimed outpatients. Far too many of these souls wait lost and wasted, abandoned by the post's and the U.S. Army's shambling bureaucracy.
This outpatient world has become a holding ground for desperation and dysfunction, according to a Washington Post investigative report. Some drift away unnoticed, AWOL, while others huddle in their rooms, depressed and forgotten. The scenes uncovered by The Post range from slumlord conditions in one residential building to drug abuse and suicide among desperate patients caught in a Catch-22, where psychologically damaged veterans are put in charge of fellow sufferers.
A staff sergeant who had his eye and skull shattered in Iraq stumbled about after his release from a surgical recovery room. He was handed a map and ordered to find his way across the sprawling post to the outpatient unit. After he found his room he sat for weeks like some accidental tourist, with no doctor appointments nor official concern.
The Army is promising to rush repairs and extra personnel. But the shameful neglect at Walter Reed is more proof of how America's leaders — despite all the rhetoric about unlimited support for the troops — are failing the nation's warriors in this disastrous war.