The debate continues over the difference between bloggers and real reporters. One definition of a reporter is one who collects facts, substantiates those facts, and then reports them in an unbiased manner. But a more compelling definition of a reporter is one who does all of these things, and is also regarded as a protector of the disadvantaged or mistreated.
Such is the case of Anne Hull and Dana Priest, reporters for The Washington Post who were contacted by veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with complaints of neglect, rotting floors and black mold in the rooms, mouse droppings, cockroaches, stained mattresses, urine and feces-stained carpeting, and other outrageous and horrifying conditions. Some wounded veterans, with no appointments or staff assistance, and unable to manage their own medical care, simply went home, rather than continue in medical limbo. When the Post reportersâ€™ stories were published, congress and the public were enraged, firings took place at the highest levels, and some semblance of sanity and responsibility began to be restored at Walter Reed – although there is still a long way to go. There is also evidence that the Veterans Administrationâ€™s network of 1,400 other hospitals and clinics also has problems.
The conditions at Walter Reed are symptomatic of how the war in Iraq is being handled and regarded by the current administration. We are told that everything – everything – is being done to support our men and women in combat. Yet defective body armor has surfaced, vehicles are being used well beyond their life expectancy, troops have been rotated back to Iraq with little time for rest and strength recovery, and worst of all, our wounded survivors are in many cases being mistreated or ignored. These are American veterans with brain injuries, amputations, and various permanent, life-long combat wounds. We owe so much more to those who have risked their lives and sacrificed their health and limbs for the rest of us. Said one wounded soldierâ€™s wife, “If Iraq donâ€™t kill you, Walter Reed will.”
But the administration and the military brass have responded not with concern and sympathy, but with denial and, in some cases, revenge. After The Washington Post stories, patients at Walter Reed were ordered to stop talking to the media. Shortly after The Washington Post expose appeared, outpatients at Walter Reed were ordered to have their rooms ready for inspection by 7 a.m., line up for daily formations, and to purchase crisp, new uniforms. In the face of a growing public relations debacle, those in charge created another Katrina.
While the rest of us arm ourselves with a beer and some snacks and watch the war on television, the mangled soldiers of a fouled-up war battle with bean counters over disability benefits, lack of proper treatment, and typical military red tape and other impediments. Many of the top brass who ignored complaints from veterans and their families have since been fired or retired – but not before they compounded the damage by refusing to do anything, or by responding with angry denials. Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, who once ran Walter Reed, said the so-called problems there were nothing more than a pack of lies. Kiley, by the way, lived across the street from the infamous “Building 18″ (mice, mold, cockroaches, etc.), but apparently rarely crossed the street.
Things are probably going to be better at Walter Reed following this scandal, but will there be a follow-up to make certain? It has been demonstrated time and time again that the American public has the attention span of a gnat. If reporters rather than bloggers made it happen at Walter Reed, perhaps bloggers can still remind their readers a few months down the road that amputations donâ€™t grow back and battle fatigue and mental stress are long-term disabilities. The only thing worse than the present Walter Reed disgrace would be a reoccurrence once everyoneâ€™s attention has shifted to how long it will take for Britney Spearâ€™s hair to grow back.