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Dana Priest On Walter Reed: An ‘Unbelievable’ Story of ‘Neglect’ and ‘Indifference’

Dana Priest and Anne Hull of the Washington Post revealed over the weekend that Walter Reed hospital, once perceived as the “crown jewel of military medicine,” has become “something else entirely — a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients.” Priest and Hull snuck in and out of the Walter Reed facilities over the course of four months without the knowledge or permission of hospital officials. They said they wanted to bypass the hospital’s “very well-oiled public relations machine.” Some examples of what they saw:

— The “legions” of injured soldiers housed at the facility “take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army.”

— Building 18 “has been plagued with mold, leaky plumbing and a broken elevator.”

— “The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.”

— “Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs.”

Last night on PBS Newshour, Priest admitted Walter Reed’s dilapidated condition was “surprising” to her. “We think that the American — we know that the American people support the troops, no matter what they think of the war,” Priest said. “And so, when we started hearing these stories of neglect, and in some cases indifference, it was unbelievable.”

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/02/walter_final.320.240.flv]

John at AmericaBlog has been covering the Walter Reed issue extensively, and has a nice round-up of veterans news here. PTSDCombat, FireDogLake, Carpetbagger, Daily Kos and Atrios have more.

Transcript:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was long considered one of the finest American military hospitals. Almost a century old, it has treated soldiers and Marines returning from war, veterans, presidents and world leaders. Since the wars began in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, Walter Reed has treated over 5,000 wounded servicemen and women. But a new investigation by the Washington Post has revealed a troubling side of the hospital, its facilities and procedures. While receiving treatment at Walter Reed, service members have been housed in buildings, including one with a rodent infestation. Army Specialist Jeremy Duncan can stand in the shower and see through to the room above him. And his room has a mold problem. And Army Staff Sergeant Dan Shannon, who lost an eye and sustained brain injury in Iraq, said when he arrived at Walter Reed, he was given a map of the facilities and told to find his room on his own. He says he was often left for weeks without an appointment to see a doctor.

[snip]

For more on the current situation at the hospital, we turn to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who co-authored the two reports. Dana, first of all, you and another reporter spent, what, four months doing this reporting, and what were the circumstances?

DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: Well, Anne Hull and myself, we decided that the only way to do this reporting was by ourselves, without the Army, because the Army at Walter Reed really has a very well-oiled public relations machine. They’ve allowed us to see the good part of Walter Reed, the medical care which people are not complaining about, the rehabilitation clinics which people are not complaining about. But we discovered this other world, which is actually populated by many more people. At any one time, there are only about 30 combat wounded in the hospital. But there are 700 living as charges of Walter Reed in one of five buildings, either on post or right off post or in apartments and houses nearby. Nearly 700 in an outpatient world that is quite different — has quite different standards than the medical facility. And that’s the world that we wanted to capture. And to do that, we visited Walter Reed and Building 18 and other places many times to interview people and to get their thoughts about this.

WOODRUFF: And just to be clear, you are making the distinction between the surgical inpatient facility and the outpatient.

PRIEST: Right. When we started hearing these stories of neglect, and in some cases indifference, it was unbelievable. And we wanted to gather many more anecdotes before we put it together.

WOODRUFF: Now, what did you find?

PRIEST: Well, what we found, first of all, was so surprising to us that we — that’s why we spent four months. In part, like many Americans, we know Walter Reed as the crown jewel of medicine. We think that the American — we know that the American people support the troops, no matter what they think of the war. And so, when we started hearing these stories of neglect, and in some cases indifference, it was unbelievable. And we wanted to gather many more anecdotes before we put it together. What we found is that there are people, as the Staff Sergeant Shannon that you referred to, many people who get out of the hospital, they’re discharged, they go to live in one of these buildings, but nobody really follows up on them.