The scandal of the Army’s after-care of wounded soldiers has claimed the jobs of the secretary of the Army, the Army surgeon general and the commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The responsibility for reforming a clearly failing system now falls to the interim surgeon general, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollack. She has an impressive resume — a nurse anesthetist, graduate degrees in business and health-care administration, 30 years in the military — so maybe she can start rectifying the daunting situation she has been handed.
But an e-mail she sent to the staff of the Army Medical Command — and quickly leaked to The Washington Post — makes outsiders wonder if she has any kind of grip on what happened. It certainly shows a bureaucratic mentality at work.
In dramatic and heart-wrenching stories, the Post found that while the medical care at Walter Reed was excellent, what happened to the wounded next was not — substandard housing, unreasonable demands for formations, an impenetrable bureaucracy and endless delays.
This had been written elsewhere before, but the Post has the big amplifier and Walter Reed is a short cab ride from the U.S. Capitol, White House and Pentagon.
“I know everyone is extremely pained about the media assaults on Walter Reed and our senior leaders,” Pollack e-mailed her staff. First off, the stories weren’t “assaults.” They ran heavily to firsthand descriptions of the runaround the soldiers and their families were getting. And is Pollock suggesting the three top leaders lost their jobs for no reason?
She had conveyed to the Post “our displeasure at the misinformation about the quality of care.” The Post’s findings were confirmed by congressional hearings and that same day by the Army inspector general. If this is “misinformation,” then President Bush and the secretary of defense were gullible enough to believe it.
She went on, according to the Post, to assure the staff that “the media makes money on these negative stories not by articulating the positive in life ...” This is a variation on that kind of thinking that says the situation in Iraq would be good if only the media wrote it that way. This isn’t Anna Nicole Smith.
Fix the problem. The good stories will follow.