(Washington D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the fourth-ranking member of the Senate leadership, delivered a speech on the Senate floor on the administration's response to veterans' health care failures including Walter Reed. The Senator's remarks follow:
By now, most Americans have heard about the appalling conditions at Walter Reed as exposed by the Washington Post. The stories detailed conditions which no one should have to endure, especially injured troops who have sacrificed so much for this country.
The Post uncovered rooms with mice infestation, moldy walls and holes in the ceilings.
The series also showed that the Administration is failing to provide adequate medical care for injured troops, who face inexcusably long waits for the most basic care.
And if squalid living conditions and a lack of adequate medical care are not bad enough, troops face a daunting maze of paperwork for the simplest things.
One service member had to show his purple heart to prove he served in Iraq. Others who returned from Iraq with uniforms caked in dirt and blood were forced to spend endless hours trying to secure new, clean uniforms. And a severe shortage of caseworkers means patients endlessly search for answers to routine questions.
Our servicemen and women, Mr. President, aren't the only ones facing bureaucratic nightmares. We also learned of problems families face when visiting loved ones at Walter Reed. From a lack of translators for families of Hispanic soldiers, to complicated and outdated forms for hotel reimbursement, relatives are spending countless hours on paperwork.
Hours that could be spent with injured sons or daughters -- husbands or wives -- fathers or mothers.
And despite White House efforts, it was eventually revealed that members of the Administration had known for years of problems plaguing Walter Reed.
Response to Walter Reed
The President's response to Walter Reed has been slow, and more media strategy than substance. Unfortunately for our troops, the Administration has tried for weeks to paper over problems instead of offering real solutions.
Days after the first reports, Administration officials repeatedly attempted to play down the problems. They painted walls, held press conferences and told Americans problems were overblown.
But the press and American public did not bite. They have been misled too many times by this Administration. And stories on the President's failure to care for our injured troops continued to appear.
After two weeks of endless news on the horrible conditions at Walter Reed, the Administration decided fall guys were needed.
First to go was Major General George W. Weightman, the head of the hospital.
The second, a bit higher on the food chain, was Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey.
And finally, yesterday, the Administration fired Lieutenant General Kiley, the Army Surgeon General and former head of Walter Reed.
On top of the fall guys, the Administration has created numerous commissions to review the care of our injured troops and veterans. Mr. President, while firing people involved in failures and creating panels to review problems are usually positive steps in the right direction, this Administration's history, unfortunately, leads me to be skeptical.
For one, while Army Secretary Harvey, Lieutenant General Kiley and Major General George W. Weightman ignored for years the problems at Walter Reed, the buck stops with the President. And as the White House Spokesperson said a few weeks ago, the Administration had been aware of the situation for some time.
Real accountability isn't finding fall guys. It's publicly owning up to failures and changing course.
And moreover, it is unlikely the panels are the solutions they seem to be. In the past seven years, we've seen many recommendations from many commissions -- including those from the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group -- simply be ignored by the White House.
What good, Mr. President, are fall guys and commissions if they produce no real change?
Enlistment to Retirement
It is now undeniable that the Administration has failed our troops and veterans. What is needed, and what these men and women deserve are real solutions that will meet their needs from the battlefield to the VA and everywhere in between.
Our forces in battle deserve adequate body and Humvee armor. They deserve communications gear and equipment to jam IEDS. What they don't need is another day in the field without these items.
Our injured heroes returning from Iraq deserve adequate mental care, treatment for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, and less bureaucratic red tape. What they don't need is another report of the Administration's failure to care for them, or a White House media strategy to cover these failures.
Our veterans of Iraq deserve benefit checks to be mailed on time so they can provide from their families and aren't forced into homelessness. What they don't need is another day without the benefits they deserve.
In the end, what all of our brave men and women deserve most is an end to the Administration's excuses.
Democrats know what our troops deserve. We know they deserve a Congress that won't hide this Administration's mistakes and will instead provide solutions.
And last week Democrats took steps toward this goal.
The HEROES, Honoring and Ensuring Respect for Our Exceptional Soldiers Plan will ensure our service members no longer fall through the cracks and fail to receive the treatment they deserve. It calls for increased oversight and coordination between the various committees overseeing troops and veterans.
This effort is especially important because so many of us know that the problems at Walter Reed are not unique. Instead, I fear that much of the health care system for our troops is broken. From poor facilities to long waiting lines to overwhelming red tape, the system is failing our troops.
We need a comprehensive look at the problem. And we need comprehensive solutions. Our troops and their families deserve no less.
Over the weekend I was stunned to see that some of these brave men and women who have been injured in Iraq are now facing the indignity of being sent back - BEFORE being cleared for duty. According to a Salon.com article form March, 11th, several dozen injured soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia, are being sent back to Iraq as part of the President's escalation plan. These soldiers, the article says, have various medical problems that should prevent them from returning to battle. But they're going anyways. Let me quote directly from the article:
"As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.
"On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny."
This report is terribly concerning. If true, it represents a new outrage and yet another example of how the Administration's failure to plan for the war is being taken out on our brave men and women.
Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, one of the soldiers who told Salon he was ordered to Iraq even though he has a spine problem that doctors say would be damaged by Army protective gear, said, and I quote:
"This is not right. This whole thing is about taking care of soldiers. If you are fit to fight you are fit to fight. If you are not fit to fight, then you are not fit to fight."
I could not agree with Master Sgt. Jenkins more. This whole thing - the war, the buildup, and the aftermath, must be about taking care of our soldiers. But far too frequently, taking care of our soldiers has been little more than an after thought for this Administration.
Unfortunately, Mr. President, the list of failures goes on and on. More stories emerge almost every day. And still, with this war set to enter on Monday its fifth year, this Administration has failed to make caring for our troops a priority.
There has been more than enough time to address problems facing our troops. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Administration has failed our Armed Forces.
Mr. President, the Administration and Republicans in Congress owe our troops, their families, and our veterans more much more.