Remember all the outrage six months ago or so, when newspaper investigations unearthed deteriorated and even dangerous conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation’s capital and other military hospitals where so many of those wounded or injured in the Iraq war go for treatment and rehabilitation?
All and sundry fulminated, President Bush appointed a special commission headed by former Sen. Bob Dole and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, a general resigned (or was pushed), and reform was promised.
According to the Government Accountability Office, however, far too little has been done. Staff shortages, uncertainty about the best way to proceed, and perhaps most significantly, bureaucratic lethargy, are among the culprits. As the Washington Post put it last week, summing up a day of hearings before a congressional oversight committee, “the effort to reform the medical bureaucracy has itself become mired in bureaucracy.”
The Dole-Shalala commission, for example, recommended that “recovery coordinators” be assigned to seriously wounded service members to held guide them through the bureaucratic maze and even cut a little red tape here and there. But an oversight committee has not yet determined how many recovery coordinators will be needed or how to decide who needs them. And a tussle has emerged over whether the coordinators will come from outside the Defense Department (as the commission recommended) or from within the ranks of the Veterans Administration.
The Army has established “warrior transition units at 32 installations around the country.” While the unit at Walter Reed is almost fully staffed, the other units had only 50 percent of their required staffing levels as of mid-September.
That the lack of reform persists should outrage everyone. The problem seems to be entrenched bureaucracy rather than lack of good intentions. The only way we know to help is to keep up the pressure and keep urging the military to blow up the boxes.