Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Editor's Pick

Walter Reed feels close to home
Submitted by Chris Tomazic, AmeriCorps*VISTA for Media

Recently, reports of squalid living conditions and impenetrable red tape at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have flooded news headlines. It is all to easy to dismiss this as an isolated incident - one hospital in one city - but some are beginning to suspect that the problems exposed at Walter Reed may be indicative of a systematic flaws in the military's veteran health care system.

A postcard of Walter Reed Hospital, ca. 1930

Back in December, I heard an NPR news story that reported on an unsettling issue at Ft. Carson in Colorado. Soldiers there - veterans of the current Iraq War - felt helpless because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But, their helplessness did not stem from the psychological and emotion struggles of a soldier returning from war. Rather, it grew from the Army's inability and unwillingness to provide adequate care for their mental anguish.

Daniel Zwerdling's investigative report told the story of four soldiers who returned from Iraq depressed and angry. Two of the soldiers even attempted suicide. But, when they went to the hospital for help, they were told to wait nearly a month before seeing a counselor. When their performance as soldiers started to suffer, their commanding officers punished them. And, when Zwerdling questioned commanders, they professed opinions that soldiers with PTSD were "weak-minded" and perhaps faking it to get out of further duty in Iraq.

I find these issues about soldier and veteran health care poignant because my sister is a current soldier. Her Army unit is in Germany right now, but she expects to deploy to Iraq by summer. I do not fear for her safety. I have faith that she will return from combat a changed but whole person. I do think, though, that as a society we under appreciate the service that our soldiers do for us. Combat soldiers risk their health daily so that our health is guarded. I am disturbed to think that their reward for that is poor healthcare when they return home.

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