Unfortunately, the recent problems at Walter Reed Medical Center are not new but they bring up an important question. Why are wounded soldiers not being given better treatment?
An article in the Washington Post made public the horrifying conditions of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center outpatient living facilities. Soldiers lived in rooms with walls half torn down and covered in mold, rotting holes in ceilings, dead cockroaches and mouse droppings. These are all sites that wounded soldiers deal with when they are sent from the hospital to the outpatient building, also known as "the other Walter Reed."
According to the article, 75 percent of those questioned considered their experience at Walter Reed "stressful." Some reported that they had a few weeks of outpatient care, when they stayed across the street from the hospital, and then heard nothing from medical or clerical staff at the hospital.
Even those who have finished treatment suffer through a long process of dealing with bureaucracy before they are either discharged or returned to active duty. The soldiers face mountains of paperwork; 22 different documents must be filed by the soldiers who have to deal with 16 different information systems to process the forms. Unfortunately, most of the information systems are not able to communicate with others. And lost documents are a serious problem at Walter Reed, resulting in some soldiers staying much longer than they should and others having to bring in photographs of themselves in Iraq as proof they were on active duty.
After the report in the Washington Post, the general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center was relieved of his command. Two investigations and Congressional inquiries have been ordered as well as a clean-up of accommodations for outpatients.
Recently, a report by ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff recounted the difficulties that some V.A. medical centers face. In his report, Woodruff noted that VA hospitals are unable to deal with brain-injured veterans after they are sent home. Some estimates state that 10 to 20 percent of veterans returning home suffer from traumatic brain injury, meaning a lot of veterans are not receiving the treatment they need.
Although Walter Reed is not a VA hospital, many of the patients who are treated at Walter Reed will eventually become a part of the VA system. Patients who are transferred out of Walter Reed and into the VA health care system experience even more bureaucracy and paperwork. According to Steve Robinson, an advisor to Veterans for America, in an interview with National Public Radio, getting into the Department of Veterans Affairs "is a whole 'nother war - a battle of paperwork, a battle of proving that your injury that you got while you were serving is compensatable and deserving of health care and treatment."
Robinson said it took two-and-a-half years from the time he filed his claim until he received disability compensation.