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Is there an inspector in the house?

Star Tribune [AP], WASHINGTON - President Bush has apologized for the substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army hospital, and although he blames bureaucrats for the deplorable outpatient program, he has promised changes will soon be made. [full story here]

In an impressive 5-page special report compiled by Dana Priest and Anne Hull, these two women uncovered the unsanitary, disrespectful, and inefficient conditions wounded soldiers from Iraq return to at Walter Reed, which is scheduled to be closed in 2011.

Building 18, described in the article's opening paragraph, was particularly appalling.

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18.

It's hard to imagine such neglect is possible, especially for a facility not 5 miles away from the White House. But Building 18 was home to several outpatients while they waited on stacks of paperwork, many of whom had psychological disorders resulting from the war. Building 18 has since been closed because of the article, and several other changes will soon follow.

An overwhelming sense of alarm and outrage has come from the public, the congress, and the president himself.

"I was disturbed by their accounts of what went wrong," Bush said. "It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear our uniform and not get the best possible care. I apologize for what they went through, and we're going to fix the problem."

Bush plans to do this by using the three commissions he has created.

  1. An independent review group from the Defense Department must report back with suggestions on how to improve Walter Reed by mid-May.
  2. An interagency task force lead by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson will search for inadequacies and negligence in the federal services provided to wounded troops.
  3. Former Senator Bob Dole and Donna Shalala (President Clinton's secretary of health and human services) will create a report that is due in the summer.

The original report spawned many follow-up stories, letters from concerned citizens, and has shed some light on a very important issue. I have lost track of how many "Homeless Veteran" signs I've seen in my lifetime in various places across this country. Though this controversy surrounds one facility, it is, I think, indicative of a long and shameful history of neglecting those who have put themselves in harm's way to secure freedom, and fight for national and international causes. I will be linking too many of the follow-up articles, and I encourage you to read them.

I have a long, personal history with war veterans, as both of my grandfathers served. I spent every Memorial Day of my high-school career riding to various country cemetaries in a Dodge Caravan with World War II vets, playing taps and collecting spent shells. During those day trips, I heard them tell a few stories from their tours, some uplifting and some horrifying. It is a remarkable thing to see a strong, old man who has survived the unimaginable waver and tear after so many decades. I have enormous respect for anyone who has worn a uniform. For this reason, and if you were at all moved by what you read, I would like to encourage you to get involved. Even if it's something as simple as stopping by your local VFW and saying 'thank you.' There are several great organizations helping with Walter Reed and veterans/wounded soldiers in general, and if you are interested in donating money or time, please visit any of the following sites:

Yellow Ribbon Fund: a private, non-profit organization providing volunteer services to injured service members and to their families. Yellow Ribbon Fund also provides services to financially strapped visiting families, from free use of one of their three apartments, to free tickets to sporting events, free lunches, and other free outings for them and their wounded soldier.

Wounded Warrior Project: a non-profit organization that focuses on providing support to families of those who have been wounded, injured, or killed -- primarily through family-vacations at resorts in both Texas and Florida.

Operation First Response: An all-volunteer nonprofit organization that seeks to help families of wounded soldiers in their time of need. **Accepts frequent flyer mile donations**

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW): a federally chartered non-profit organization that helps provide services from health-care to friendship and fellowship.

American Legion: a patriotic, mutual-help, war-time veterans organization centered around community service.

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Shelby: I am impressed with the work you have done on the blog. I know you have labored in relative silence through the semester...but when I look at the final product, the range of stories and the depth of analysis, I see a product of great value to you as you head into the workforce. This entry was particularly comprehensive. Very nice. GG