Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2007

Red tape greets injured soldiers

Mammoth bureaucracy’ frustrates, confuses wounded veterans

April 15, 2007


Former Sen. Bob Dole, left, and Donna Shalala, health and human services secretary under President Bill Clinton, listen to testimony during a commission hearing on the treatment of wounded veterans, Saturday in Washington.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, left, and Donna Shalala, health and human services secretary under President Bill Clinton, listen to testimony during a commission hearing on the treatment of wounded veterans, Saturday in Washington.

— Injured soldiers returning home for medical treatment face an unacceptable maze of paperwork and bureaucracy, leaders of a presidential commission on veterans' health care said Saturday.

At its first public meeting, the nine-member panel heard from veterans, spouses and advocacy groups who decried what they said was a failed system. The commission pledged to work quickly to find solutions rather than assign blame.

"This is not going to be a witch hunt," said former GOP Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, one of the heads of the Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors.

Dole said the commission planned to build upon the work of at least nine congressional committees and other government panels that are investigating veterans' health care problems. Those inquiries followed disclosures in February of squalid conditions and poor outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Their reviews in recent weeks have pointed to inadequacies with the treatment of brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as outpatient care.

Donna Shalala, health and human services secretary under President Clinton, said the commission planned a report by late July that would be pragmatic and "solution-driven."

Among the areas the report will address: fostering cooperation between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which do not have systems in place to share inpatient records electronically; providing institutional support to families who bear burdens of caregiving; and reforming a disability benefits system that critics say shortchanges injured soldiers.

"Our timeline for action is very short," Shalala said. As a result, she said commissioners may not be able to visit every military hospital and VA clinic to examine conditions.

Shalala encouraged injured troops and veterans to express their concerns to the commission through their Web site:

Not being served

During the hearing, the commission heard stories of confusion and frustration as veterans navigated the Pentagon and VA's vast health care network. Veterans complained of bureaucratic doublespeak when they sought help and said the problems extended beyond Walter Reed.

Veterans must take on "mammoth bureaucracies," said Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America. He said the government has been slow to respond to brain injuries and other medical problems from the Iraq war.

Three commissioners who experienced problems after they or their spouses were injured in Iraq said their final report would address the maddening red tape.

Tammy Edwards spoke of recommending ways to alleviate burdens on families. In 2005, her husband, an Army staff sergeant, was burned severely in Iraq when a 500-pound bomb exploded under his vehicle.

Spouses often must drop everything to provide care, and parents and grandparents frequently change their way of life to because of the burdens of providing for injured service members from Iraq who are much younger compared to past wars, Edwards said.

"I have watched several marriages fall apart because the spouses did not receive the emotional support necessary to help them through such a challenging time," Edwards said.

'Moral obligation'

When President Bush named Dole and Shalala to head the panel, he said the nation has "a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who served our country."

The commission also heard from two former Army secretaries, John O. "Jack" Marsh and Togo D. West, who headed an independent review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Its report last week found money problems and Pentagon neglect were to blame.

A different panel also has raised questions about whether injured soldiers might be shortchanged by the system used for rating their disabilities. Critics say the Pentagon has a strong incentive to assign ratings so the military will not have to pay disability benefits.

West faulted a system that ignored problems for so long. He noted that many of his group's recommendations - which include a quick infusion of funds, an overhaul of the disability evaluation system and creation of a national "center of excellence" for brain injury cases - had been offered by other commissions and congressional panels in the past 10 years.

"We know what to do as a society, as two cabinet departments, to fix that system," he said. "We must summon the will and persistence to see that through. We can do better."

West and Marsh suggested that responsibility may lie with Bush and Congress. Dole did not seem to disagree, suggesting the commission may incorporate many of the previous recommendations.

"Maybe if we put a different set of names in front of it, things will happen," Dole said.

In the coming weeks, the commission plans more than a dozen hearings and site visits to military and VA facilities around the country, including Los Angeles and San Antonio. The commission's next hearing will be April 23 in Washington, with a visit to Walter Reed the following day.


Richard Heckler 10 years, 11 months ago

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

By Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney

04/11/07 "ICH" -- -- -Had Enough? Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course." Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out! You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies.Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for.

I've had enough. How about you? I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have. My friends tell me to calm down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people." I'd love to, as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I'm going to speak up because it's my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it, and it's not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don't vote because they don't trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us. Who Are These Guys, Anyway? Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them, or at least some of us did. But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a dictatorship, not a democracy. And don't tell me it's all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats.

The Test of a Leader:

Godot 10 years, 11 months ago

The article in the Kansas City Star, with a NY Times byline, about this same topic had this quote:

"Marc A Giammatteo, who has undergone more than 30 operations to repair a leg torn apart by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq, said the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington had been overwhelmed with wounded members of the armed forces.

Giammatteo, a West Point graduate and former Army Captain, said he had observed a "lack of caring or compassion in some of the work force" at Walter Reed.

"On several occasions," Giammatteo said, "I, and others I have spoken to, felt that we were being judged as if we chose our nation's foreign policy and, as a result, received litt if any assistance.

"Some individuals, most of whom are civilian workers and do not wear the uniform, judge the wounded unfairly and treat them similarly, adopting a 'Can't help you, you're on your own' attitude."

Godot 10 years, 11 months ago

Note that the difference between Merrill's quote and mine.

My quote is attributed to a real person, with a name name, rank and branch of the military.

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