Lessons to learn from Walter Reed disgrace

If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ve seen images from the Walter Reed Medical Center. Images of crumbling drywall. Images of cockroach and rat infestation. Images of mold-covered walls and ceilings. Images you certainly would not expect to find at the most premier rehabilitation and medical facility for America’s veterans. Along with the disturbing images of the living conditions in the hospital are reports of patients’ requests and medical care being ignored.

These reports came after the Washington Post ran a series of articles about being embedded in the hospital. They detailed the conditions and lack of care these veterans have been subjected to.

In this sad story of neglect and bureaucratic irresponsibility, we can only think of one positive outcome.

That is, thank God some news organization is digging into actual news and making a change rather than doggedly reporting on what Britney Spears did to her brown locks. The positive changes these articles can make in the lives of future residents of Walter Reed, and veterans in general, are results of the type of journalism that inspires us to continue in this field.

Those 64 words you just read are the only positive ones you will find in this editorial, because, put simply, what was happening at Walter Reed Hospital is a disgrace. It’s appalling to think that the government seemed to be sweeping this under the rug until it was faced with the problem in the headlines.

So how could something like this go so overlooked? William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in a news conference that he was a regular visitor to the hospital and continually asked if they needed anything. He said everyone was surprised by the Post reports.

The Post revealed just how monumentally our system can fail and how those failings caused unnecessary suffering to individuals who quite rightly deserve the best medical treatment in the whole United States.

Our generation has heard stories about the negative reaction to Vietnam veterans after they came home. We’ve heard about how they were demeaned and criticized simply for their service in the armed forces.

This lack of attention to veterans’ medical needs and care is just as sad.

The one thing we’ve heard throughout the Iraq War (other than “Stay the course”) has been “Support our troops.” That phrase means more than plastering a magnetic ribbon to the back of your car and hanging a poster in your window. It means actually looking out for them.

Obviously, the medical center wasn’t.

The public needs to not let this go easily. We need to continue to question those in charge and make sure the money is being properly allocated to veteran’s hospitals. There also needs to be a continuing check on the hospitals’ performance —ÿnot just someone calling over and saying “Hey, you all OK over there?”

There needs to be investigations and financial support from the government, and there needs to be more commitment from the public to assure that the finest care is being provided to wounded troops —ÿthat’s the least we can do to match the commitment they gave all of us by serving.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.