Tuesday, March 27, 2007

One huge hypocritical “scandal”

When my brother was selected by the US Army as one of five top graduates of his medical class and sent to Walter Reed we all felt very proud. He remained there five years. During that time, as respiratory therapist, he attended Sen. Biden, President Reagan, Vice President Bush, President Duarte of El Salvador, and the families of members of the Cabinet and of Congress.

Now we hear that there is a scandal in Walter Reed, being that American wounded in today’s conflicts are not being treated right. And if that is so, then shame on all involved. But how do we match that view with recent countless coverage in the news of how advanced and top-of-the-line Walter Reed is as a medical facility? The answer is politics, pure politics.

Yes, there have been cases of bureaucratic bungling. What do you expect from bureaucracies? But the real scandal is not in the lack of paint, here and there, or the Merry-go-round that families and soldiers may be put through now and then. The real scandal is in the out patient and general treatment services in the VA system; they have been caught with their pants down and they know it.

Since the Vietnam War the US military has not treated as many wounded veterans as it does now. Now they have tied this “Walter Reed scandal” to the VA hospitals as an apparent comprehensive examination of the veteran’s treatment, when anyone who has dealt with the VA system knows it has been in need of repair for decades.
The so-called Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal reminds me of the scene in Casablanca when corrupt inspector Renault claims “I’m shocked, shocked to find that there is gambling going on here”. They have known this for a long time.

The VA system has become a political reward system for hacks affiliated to a political party via affirmative action. This is no slight on the many good and qualified people that work there, but an elaborate and sophisticated system of underlying political connections operates to direct the filling of positions and vacancies in the VA hospitals system. This is where the real investigation needs to happen.

In the meantime politicians have chosen to smear the reputation of those who work at Walter Reed. And before anyone jumps and thinks we are talking party politics here, the problem cuts across party lines. The issue is a hypocritical attack not only on a venerable historical institution and the dedicated people that work there but most importantly the neglect that some of our best citizens suffer after offering life and limb for the rest of us. They deserve better than political grandstanding and posturing.

And yet, we have also found out that the present state of affairs at Walter Reed and the VA hospitals is the result of—guess—cuts by Congress. But don’t expect these cuts to have affected the best hospital suites and beds in town; the ones at Walter Reed reserved for top politicians in DC and foreign dignitaries, courtesy of the American taxpayer.

The medical and general personnel at Walter Reed are the cream of the crop. After all, politicians only want the best for themselves and their families while leaving the VA system to the politics of Affirmative Action. It is part of their private health care plan. No HMOs there. No waiting in line for hours as in your average VA hospital.
Perhaps, as in Casablanca, if they want to solve the “Walter Reed scandal” they should start by “rounding up the usual suspects”.