Complaining Soldiers At Walter Reed Told To Stop Talking About Problems

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Isn’t it time to use the word? But we won’t. We are far too polite.

We won’t say this Army Times report details what smells like a coverup and/or something truly unworthy of the military men and women who have sacrificed and are on the mend:

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,� one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Oops. Someone is going to have his room under 24 hours constant inspection now.
It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

They were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.

And, yes, there’s more:

The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Army public affairs did not respond to a request sent Sunday evening to verify the personnel changes.

This truly does not pass “the smell test.” It has the fetid aroma of a decision to shut up via official intimidation people who’ve helped detail a scandal the Pentagon and administration find embarrassing. This really isn’t a “war” issue; this is a classic case of subjects of a story trying to shut down sources and do it in a way so they can deny that is what’s happening.

It raises again the question of how this adminstration’s most loyal supporters can keep supporting it given not just poor policy management and scandals, but tactics used to either clamp down on bad publicity or to go after those who source it. This all-but-in-name clampdown comes from the Pentagon but it resembles a political operation.

The irony:

These wounded soldiers survived bullets and explosive devices in Iraq.

And now they must survive political bullets and exploding tempers of their higher command and Bush adminsitration officials who don’t want to see bad publicity.

And, really, why shouldn’t they be mad?

The bad publicity drowns out the official statements about how much officialdom cares for the troops….

  

11 Comments

  1. This convince people that the problems at Walter Reed are a function of the local organization. My guess is that someone in the chain of command gave the “order” with consulting with legal counsel. The lawyers would have let them know what limits can and cannot be but on a person. The commanders can only limit contact with the military that is an official function.

    Now, some of the soliders interviewed in the Washington Post piece did give interviews that appeared to be part of an official function such as being photographed in uniform. The soliders probably did not inform their chain of command nor the public affairs people that they were being interviewed.

    On another note, the firing of medical hold personnel and the bring in of outsiders is common practice for the Medical Brigade at Walter Reed. The new people (probably reservist) will then spend weeks trying to learn how the place functions. The “120″ new people will probably try to solve the problems the same way they solved them at Fort Bragg or Fort Hood ten years ago and will thus fail.

  2. Washington, DC – Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY-28), Chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, today responded to recent reports in the Air Force Times stating that soldiers recovering at Walter Reed have been told by officers that they are not to talk to the media, and that CNN and Discovery Channel projects focusing on Defense Department medical facilities have been put on hold by Pentagon officials.

    The article also reported that some soldiers recovering at Walter Reed believe that new and unusual orders requiring them to be awake by 6 AM and ready for room inspections at 7 AM may be punitive in nature.

    “Last Friday, Secretary of Defense Gates publicly stated that the situation at Walter Reed was, in his words, unacceptable,� Rep. Slaughter said. “The accountability he seemed to embrace was demanded by common decency and welcomed by the public.�

    “The only acceptable course of action for our military and civilian leaders to take is to fully and openly address any and all concerns regarding veterans’ facilities nation-wide,â€? Congresswoman Slaughter continued. “Any attempt to silence the very soldiers who brought their own mistreatment to light, or to hide ongoing abuses from the public eye – if such attempts are occurring – would be morally reprehensible. It would be an abdication of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our government: the protection of those who have fought to protect us.â€?

    “Secretary Gates should act on the same principals of accountability and responsibility he so recently advocated and address these reports immediately. As a nation, we need to be honest about the care our veterans are receiving. Their enormous sacrifice demands nothing less.�

    Hat tip AMERICAblog

  3. It’s time for our government to actually put some actions behind this supporting the troops bull.

    But we know they won’t.

  4. Sorry to disappoint you, SD, but Bush and the GOP are going to take the heat for this one. As well they should. Whatta buncha hypocrites with all of their baloney about supporting the troops. Jeez this is worse than Al Gore’s $30,000 utility bill!

  5. Very good link, Rudi, thx!
    A must read, reveals the stingyness of the Pentagon. Billions are wasted every day in Iraq, but a soldier who lost his short term memory gets shortchanged with a 20% disability rate (for god’s sake, what kind of job shall he live of in the future? Packing bags at WalMart?). And he’s just one of thousands. It’s a scandal.
    :-(

  6. kritter,

    I am not trying to excuse the Bush Administration but you have to wonder about the Democrats who want to make the President responsible for every dry wall in the government and for the performance of every low level government workers.

    I am beginning to understand why urban school districts change superintendents every year. Those school districts keep thinking that those at the top have much more influence than they really do.

    I see Walter Reed problems at Walter Reed as a function of how the government operates (that boring day to day operation that no policy wonk wants to be involved with). Walter Reed is much larger than any other military hospital. Thus, the standard procedures and solution that work at smaller hospitals just do not work. Walter Reed also has a higher turnover than other military hospitals. The combination of the two creates unique problems.

  7. “I am not trying to excuse the Bush Administration but you have to wonder about the Democrats who want to make the President responsible for every dry wall in the government and for the performance of every low level government workers.”

    His administration, his responsibility. This is the kind of management when your promotions are guided by party affiliation and a desire to reward ‘friends’ instead of appointing the most competent persons available. Besides, don’t try to make it sound as if republicans acted any different against Clinton. This is what Congressional oversight is about, not letting the administration get away with blunders.

  8. Gray is 100% correct, SD. You seem to want to spread the blame around for this and other Bush scandals (like Katrina) but likely would have nailed Clinton for it. We had a GOP executive and a GOP-led Congress for 6 years with no oversight. Appointments were given to political cronies like Michael Brown, with little regard for competence. Thank God for a free press!

  9. I still think this is partially due to the buceaucratic mind set. No one is accountable. No one wants to take responsibility; they just fill out a few forms and go home by the clock.
    The administrators are too busy creating more forms and installing procedures to look at what is really going on.

  10. kritter,

    But to use Katrina for an example what would you have expected Brown to do that would have made any difference in the first 48 hours?

    What difference in process would you have wanted Walter Reed to do to fix the dry wall in a guesthouse?

    Do you really expect someone in the executive office building at the White House to be worrying about the plumbing in every building that the government owns?

    The problem at Walter Reed is just not something that can fit into a sound bite and is really rather independent of party politics. Do you really think that there will be people in the Clinton or Obama White House will be micromanaging such things.

    The lowest level political appointee in the Army is the Secretary of the Army (Harvey). Everyone below him is career government service. I find it amazing that people on the left want to blame the political appointees but somehow leave the career civil servants out of it. I suspect that many on the left are afraid to attack the bureacracy because most proposals from the left want to expand the bureaucracy.

    I also suspect that the propoents of single payer or nationalized health care are happy that the media has not interpreted the story as a failure of civil servants and career military to do their jobs but instead has focused on the politics. Remember, the same people who are losing forms at Walter Reed or being slow in performing physical evaluations would be the people in charge of medicare for all.

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