Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Updated: Pentagon: Wounded troops at Walter Reed can't talk to the media

By Joshua Holland
Posted on February 28, 2007, Printed on February 28, 2007

In the aftermath of the Washington Post's series detailing the horrendous conditions faced by some of the soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Pentagon, in typical Pentagon fashion, is trying to white-wash the whole mess, both literally and figuratively.

Here's Dana Milbank last week:

It's not every day one gets to witness a whitewash in action, but Walter Reed Army Medical Center provided just such an opportunity yesterday.
... Dana Priest and Anne Hull described the woeful conditions of Room 205 in Walter Reed's Building 18: "Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole."
The Army mobilized. Painters were deployed to cover the offending wall with a fresh coat of white semigloss. And television crews were invited in to inspect the result.
"Some of the paint is still wet against that wall, so be careful," Walter Reed public affairs officer Donald Vandrey, standing on the bed in his socks, advised the film crews. "They just finished repainting it about 10 minutes ago."
Mission accomplished?
Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley thought so. After the media tour of Building 18, the Army's surgeon general gave a news conference. "I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard," he said of a facility Priest and Hull found full of "mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses" and other delights. "We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren't serious, and there weren't a lot of them."
Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn't walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn't acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation.

It gets worse. The Navy Times [via Nitpicker] reports that the Army has ordered patients at WR not to speak to the media. In fact, some wounded vets think they're being punished because a few did talk to the WaPo.

Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet
Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.
"Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media," one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.
Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters. [...]
The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant has been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said. [...]
The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: "It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place," referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.

Support the ... yeah.

PS: How crazy are the wing-nuts when called out on the hollowness of their support-the-troops-but-only-as-symbols rhetoric? This crazy.

UPDATE: Louise Slaughter, fast becoming one of my favorite legislators, reacted to this story today:

"Any attempt to silence the very soldiers who brought their own mistreatment to light, or to hide ongoing abuses from the public eye - if such attempts are occurring - would be morally reprehensible. It would be an abdication of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our government: the protection of those who have fought to protect us.”

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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