It's sometimes hard to understand Americans' repeated assurance that even if they disagree with United States policy in Iraq, they still support America's troops.
The nation's reaction to the pitiful conditions that have come to light at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center may help define that stand.
The conditions in which wounded soldiers reportedly are living while they receive outpatient treatment at Walter Reed rise above political posturing. There is little debate over whether men and women who have suffered sometimes life-altering injuries in the service of their country deserve better.
It truly is an outrage to read reports of conditions at a former hotel near Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. Rooms in a building that houses 76 soldiers receiving outpatient treatment reportedly are plagued by mold, leaky plumbing and holes in the ceilings. Even more appalling is that U.S. Army officials apparently had been aware of these conditions for some time, perhaps years, and done nothing to correct them.
Unfortunately, the person who temporarily has been placed in charge of the hospital appears to be among those who have minimized or ignored the problems.
Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley was named Thursday to replace Walter Reed commander Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman. It's a puzzling move. Although the need for change at Walter Reed is obvious, it's less obvious that Weightman, who had been in command for only six months, should be the scapegoat. It's even more strange that he should be replaced by Kiley who was commander at Walter Reed for two years before becoming surgeon general in 2004.
The Washington Post, which shined the light on the Walter Reed situation, documented deplorable conditions at the hospital during Kiley's command. Even if we assume conditions had worsened after Kiley's departure, his comments shortly after the Washington Post stories were published show a disturbing lack of concern. Kiley said the newspaper presented a "one-sided representation" and added, "While we have some issues here, this is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed."
The soldiers and families living in moldy, leaking housing might disagree. Fortunately, many high officials in the federal government have expressed their dismay at the situation and pledged to correct it.
It is unimaginable that high-ranking Army officers who presumably have served in combat would tolerate such substandard living conditions for combat-wounded soldiers. These men and women have paid a huge price in the service of their country, and they deserve no less than the best medical treatment and housing that the United States has to offer.