Mark Benjamin's Walter Reed Exposé - Salon
Some wounded soldiers back from Iraq are having to pay for meals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Veterans' groups say it's another symptom of fighting a costly war on the cheap.
Whether it is the lack of protective armor for troops in the field or, now, wounded troops paying for food, complaints from soldiers have shed an unflattering light on how the military bureaucracy takes care of its troops. And they have prompted accusations that the Pentagon is fighting the Iraq war on the cheap, no matter what the cost to soldiers. The meal charge policy "is an example of a much larger problem relating to the overall cost of the war. It is all an indication of extreme costs they are trying to make up on the backs of these men and women," said Steve Robinson, a retired Army Ranger and the executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center.
They're overmedicated, forced to talk about their mothers instead of Iraq, and have to fight for disability pay. Traumatized combat vets say the Army is failing them, and after a year following more than a dozen soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, I believe them.
The conditions for traumatized vets at the Army's flagship hospital are particularly disturbing because Walter Reed is supposed to be the best. But leading veterans' advocate and retired Army ranger Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, agrees that when it comes to psychiatric care, Walter Reed doesn't make the grade. "I think that Walter Reed is doing a great job of taking care of those suffering acute battlefield injuries -- the amputees, the burn victims, and those hurt by bullets and bombs," said Robinson, who has spent many hours visiting psychiatric patients at Walter Reed. "But they are failing the psychological needs of the returning veterans."
More U.S. soldiers than ever are sustaining serious brain injuries in Iraq. But a significant number of them are being misdiagnosed, forced to wait for treatment or even being called liars by the Army.
Spc. Wilson is not alone among Iraq veterans who have been misdiagnosed or waited for treatment for traumatic brain injury. Other soldiers interviewed at Walter Reed with apparent brain injuries say they too have been deeply frustrated by delays in getting adequately diagnosed and treated. The soldiers say doctors have caused them anguish by suggesting that their problems might stem from other causes, including mental illness or hereditary disease. According to interviews with military doctors and medical records obtained by Salon, brain-injury cases are overloading Walter Reed. As a result, a significant number of brain-injury patients are falling through the cracks from a lack of resources, know-how, and even blatant neglect.