Yesterday, for the first time, the Army criticized the Washington Post for its investigation into the gross neglect of wounded U.S. veterans at Walter Reed’s outpatient facilities. Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, chief of the Army Medical Command, called the Post’s reporting “one-sided” and questioned whether it was “an accurate representation.”
Moreover, he claimed the Army had already “fixed all of those problems” discussed in the article. (Reporter Dana Milbank noted, “Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn’t walked through the lobby…or if he hadn’t acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation.”)
But last night on the PBS Newshour, Lt. Brady Van Engelen — a former Walter Reed outpatient who has personal experience with the hospital’s failed bureaucracy — confirmed the Post’s reporting, and said the problems with America’s military health care system go well beyond Walter Reed. Watch it:
Engelen was shot in the head in Baghdad in April 2004, and had a large piece of his skull replaced with a titanium plate. Days after his surgery, he actually had to hail a cab to take him to the outpatient facility, because he didn’t feel well enough to walk there. “This stuff happens all across the country,” Van Engelen said. “I’ve spoken to soldiers that have told me just as much. It’s systemic. It’s not just moldy beds, walls, and hospital beds, you know, and the poor TV reception or anything else. It’s just the mentality, you know. The system just needs an overhaul.”
Later on the show, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), chairman of the Veterans Committee, said “the White House and [Kiley] are in denial about this whole thing.”
LT. BRADY VAN ENGELEN (Ret.), U.S. Army: I was this close to being killed. Today, I’m just happy to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Army First Lieutenant Brady Van Engelen was in Baghdad when he was shot in the head in April 2004. The 27-year-old had a large piece of his skull replaced with a titanium plate. And although he had been shot just six days earlier, Van Engelen was asked to choose inpatient or outpatient care as soon as he arrived at Walter Reed. You chose to go right into outpatient and…
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: Yes, I mean, I wanted to be — if I would have gone inpatient, I wouldn’t have been able to see my family, you know?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think a doctor would have made the same decision you did, to put you into outpatient and not inpatient?
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: No. I mean, you know, I got shot a week before. I think any doctor would probably at least observed. I mean, I don’t know if they’d do anything, but at least observe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And as you look back on it, what shape do you think were you in at that point?
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: I was pretty beaten up, you know? I mean, like I said, I’d just been shot. I had a huge gauze on my head. You know, I still wasn’t completely with it. You know, I was fortunate enough to find a cabbie that just took me to the other side of Walter Reed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A cab?
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: Yes, I mean, it’s not a very far walk. It’s like three buildings. It’s not that far. But still, you know, I don’t know. I could have been walking all night long, you never know.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Both Groves and Van Engelen say that the controversy over the physical condition of facilities at Walter Reed is only one small part of a far greater problem throughout the military health care system.
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: They don’t get it. It extends beyond hospital — they don’t see that. They see the hospital bed as the route, you know, where the shoddy beds and the moldy walls as the root of the problem, but it extends beyond that. And they’re going to fix these walls, you know, and they’ll repaint the walls, and replace the beds, but it extends so far beyond that. It’s engrained within our culture, you know? It’s how we treat our soldiers; it’s the way it is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s a lot of focus on the buildings and what’s wrong with the buildings. You’re saying that’s not the whole problem?
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: Walter Reed is on 16th Street. So is the White House. I mean, it’s in his backyard. I mean, do you think this stuff isn’t happening in Ravenna, Ohio, you know? I mean, what about the care there? You know, what about the care at other military installations, as well? This stuff happens all across the country. It’s not just Walter Reed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you know that it’s happening in other places?
BRADY VAN ENGELEN: I’ve spoken to soldiers that have told me just as much. It’s systemic. It’s not just moldy beds, walls, and hospital beds, you know, and the poor TV reception or anything else. It’s just the mentality, you know. The system just needs an overhaul.