March 08, 2007

What Story Will the Public Take Away About the Walter Reed Mess?

Americans are truly outraged about the Walter Reed story, but what message have they taken away this week? As this segment on NPR says this story is capable of completely derailing the Bush administration.

The reports of shoddy treatment at Walter Reed long considered a premier medical facility come as the Bush administration is trying shore up waning support for the war in Iraq. Scott Silliman, a law professor at Duke University and a former Air Force lawyer, says the Walter Reed scandal also has political consequences.

"Walter Reed is clearly a policy issue with political ramifications coming up in this country with the election in '08, and the administration is looking at it in that light," Silliman said. "And making sure that it is seen as taking an extremely aggressive approach towards remedying the situation."

Silliman says the impact of the Abu Ghraib scandal was much greater overseas than in the United States. He says, with Walter Reed, the reverse is true.

"In Abu Ghraib it was those that we claimed to be insurgents or al-Qaida members," he said. "Here we're talking about our own soldiers who are defending us over there. So it impacts the American people quite differently."

Yet, the story is a complicated story to tell -- after all, what is the difference between the VA and Walter Reed? -- and because of that, it is easy to confuse people about what's really at stake.

It is very important that the public understand what the Bush administration's role was in this failure of policy. As I wrote earlier, the rightwing machine is already out talking about how this is a big government (Democratic) problem. If they successfully paint this idea in the minds of the American public, they will once more skate responsiblity for their actions and be free to carry on as usual.

Today, one of the biggest stories on Google is how Bush is stepping in to fix the problem with no mention that he owns responsibility for this mess. Here is what the Christian Broadcasting News is reporting.

President Bush says he's concerned the nation's wounded service men and women are not getting the treatment they deserve.

Today, he met with with newly-named Veterans Care Commissioners Bob Dole and Donna Shalala.

...The Commission will review health care at Defense Department and veterans hospitals across the country.

The Bureaucracy is to blame according to the conservative press.

Kiley acknowledged that the medical boards and physical evaluation boards, which determine a wounded soldier's duty status, are complex and confusing. The system is often adversarial and creates a sense that soldiers are not appreciated for their sacrifices, he said.

"We really need to reinvent the whole process, and I'm committed to it," Kiley said.

One of the reasons the process takes so long is because soldiers cannot begin these boards until they are done with medical treatment, Schoomaker said. This treatment can last many months and can leave servicemembers in an outpatient status where they may feel forgotten, he said. He noted that the medical and physical evaluation board process, if done perfectly with no missed appointments or problems, would take 180 days.

This story line has the effect of once more smearing "government" instead of emphasizing the difference between a Bush bureaucracy and what is possible when someone who cares about making things work for people rather than only their rich backers is in charge.

Just as Clinton's FEMA worked beautifully, so did the VA medical system. It is under Bush that things got so bad.

Besides starting an unnecessary war which greatly stressed the system, Bush and his ideologically corrupt minons refused to hear about the problems and focused their attention on diverting tax dollars to the rich. Former TPMMuckraker Justin Rood has uncovered the fact that the "complicated system" that exists today could have been made significantly better for mere $1 Million (via TPMMuckraker).

A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties.

As a result, seriously wounded veterans continued to face long delays for health care and benefit payments after being discharged from the military, says former VA program manager Paul Sullivan....

Sullivan said he was told the cost of the system -- less than $1 million to build and requiring a handful of staff to maintain -- was prohibitive.

As Krugman says, the problem we see with the treatment for the wounded soldiers is the same as what we saw with New Orleans. The Bush administration is ideologicially concerned first and foremost for funneling profits to their cronies. Everything else is secondary.

Indeed, according to Rood, Bush continues to place confidence in the very people who refused to change the systems that had been identified as problematic:

Yesterday, President Bush put VA Secretary Nicholson in charge of an interagency task force to determine what can be done to deliver benefits and health care now to thousands of wounded vets who have struggled to receive care.

The announcement came almost exactly two years after Nicholson had received the newly designed system, itself the result of an internal VA task force studying how to make sure wounded soldiers were "seamlessly" transitioned from military service to veteran status with the care and benefits they'd earned.

...Sullivan ... reacted with dismay at yesterday's announcement that Nicholson would be leading the new effort to make sure wounded veterans get the care and benefits they deserve.

"I don't think it's a good idea for the people responsible for the problem to be in charge of fixing it," he told ABC News.

This is the story we need to make sure the public takes away from this scandal. Otherwise, nothing can or will get fixed, despite the announcement of a new bipartisan commission to "fix" things. There must finally be some accountability for the Bush administration and their ideology that places greed over human needs.

Posted by Mary at March 8, 2007 12:14 AM | Corruption & Graft | TrackBack(3) | Technorati links |

Another aspect is that when government programs do become bogged down by rules and complicated procedures it's often because Republicans insisted on setting up all kinds of complex cost controls to prevent "freeloaders" (which means everyone outside their social class) from getting too many benefits. I've seen it countless times. They don't' want to remove barriers to accessing services, they want more barriers. After all, there are other critical priorities like tax cuts for the wealthy.

I guess after jamming the system they can then stand back and blame big government, or just government period.

So Bush the man of action, who has been cutting vets programs, has stepped in and told a couple of guys to "go fix the problem", or at least look like you're doing something. He really isn't interested in how government works as long as he and his buds get money and power out of it.

Posted by: DeanOR at March 8, 2007 03:24 AM

Bush ... told a couple of guys to "go fix the problem"...

That's Bush to a T. He really does believe he makes the decision, but all the responsiblity for bad results are the fault of those minons who were tasked with carrying out the decision.

Posted by: Mary at March 8, 2007 11:34 PM