Dana Milbank has a terrific column in today’s Washington Post about the whitewash going on at Walter Reed after the newspaper’s expose by Dana Priest and Anne Hull of nightmarish conditions in at least one of the facilities housing wounded soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Army, embarrassed, apparently rushed in some construction crews to paint over the problems, and then the PR crews to show off the repairs:
After the media tour of Building 18, the Army’s surgeon general gave a news conference. “I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard,” he said of a facility Priest and Hull found full of “mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses” and other delights. “We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren’t serious, and there weren’t a lot of them.”[Lt. Gen. Kevin] Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn’t walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn’t acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation. The general also seemed to miss a larger point identified by other officials: Walter Reed’s problem isn’t of mice and mold but a bureaucracy that has impeded the recovery of wounded soldiers.The Army’s vice chief of staff, only 24 hours earlier, decried “a breakdown in leadership” for the conditions in the place. And Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) noted that “you could put all the wounded soldiers in the Ritz-Carlton, and it wouldn’t fix the personnel management and recordkeeping problems that keep them languishing in outpatient limbo out there for months.”
Now Robert Gates, the new SecDef, has announced a review panel will inspect Walter Reed, and those responsible for the unacceptable conditions will be “held accountable.” Let’s hope he means it.