Considered the premier medical institution for the Army, Walter Reed is so crowded that some wounded soldiers are cared for in Building 18, which The Post reported has broken elevators, ice-covered walkways that confined soldiers to their rooms and other problems. (The Pentagon announced yesterday that repairs are underway for Building 18.)
Kerry also said today that he would explore other options for "directing new funding to Walter Reed and to make immediate improvements to the buildings where veterans are housed." He said that he was “saddened” by a recent Washington Post series exposing the poor sanitary conditions and other hurdles faced by injured veterans returning to the states after service in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he noted the recent story in the Army Times about 15 month delays facing vets seeking a physical evaluation.
“We owe our returning veterans a debt of gratitude, not sub-standard treatment at an overcrowded medical facility,” said Kerry. “The Administration has consistently talked a big game but shortchanged the needs of veterans. How can the president talk about a troop escalation in Iraq while failing to keep faith with the Iraq War veterans we’ve already brought home? Brave men who have been blinded or lost a limb in Iraq should not be sitting in moldy, mouse-infested buildings. Period. It’s unacceptable and this Congress needs to do something about it.”
The Obama - McCaskill legislation that Kerry is co-sponsoring would do the following:
- Simplify the paperwork process for recovering soldiers;
- Improve the ratio of caseworkers to recovering soldiers;
- Increase the training of caseworkers;
- Require more frequent IG inspections of hospital facilities and standards of care;
- Establish timelines and benchmarks for repairs to substandard facilities;
- Provide recovering soldiers with psychological counseling; and
- Require regular reporting to Congress on: the total number of recovering soldiers at military hospitals; the number of caseworkers; the average waiting time for treatment; and the number of suicide attempts, accidental deaths or drug overdoses.
Hardball had Dana Priest on tonight talking about the series. The transcript of Hardball is here. And Paul Rieckoff has a post on the HuffPo about the situation at Walter Reed, that I highly recommend reading.
I'm not at all surprised to see Kerry jumping right in to co-sponsor the legislation from Obama and McCaskill. Fighting for veteran's rights has been an issue for him since day one in the Senate. Anyone who thinks otherswise doesn't know John Kerry.