Anatomy of Neglect
A Pentagon panel reports on Walter Reed.
IT’S OFFICIAL: Poor outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was delivered by an inadequately sized staff suffering from “ compassion fatigue”; neglected by leaders who “ should have been aware of the poor living conditions and administrative hurdles” and yet “ failed to provide clear direction, or place proper priority, on the management of outpatients”; and worsened by “ destabilizing” workforce changes and outdated policies on debilitating wounds. The failures were both systemic and specific, and there is plenty of blame to go around.
For anyone who read The Post’s series on outpatient care at Walter Reed and followed the subsequent reaction, none of these revelations should be surprising. What is notable is that they came from a Defense Department- sanctioned panel convened by Secretary Robert M. Gates. Last week the panel released a series of draft findings and recommendations that was a thorough acknowledgment of unacceptable, wide- ranging failure at practically every level of responsibility.
Of particular note are the sections that deal frankly with the human costs of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The draft stresses that the military medical establishment has not focused enough on the care of traumatic brain injuries, blast injuries and post- trau- matic stress disorder. It recommends that burn victims who have lost the use of limbs should receive benefits similar to those of amputees. It also discusses the bureaucratic mess of the disability rating system used to adjudicate benefit packages and calls for the review of certain disability evaluations. The Defense Department was ill- prepared for the physical and financial consequences of war.
There are dozens of details that policymakers have to sort out following the release of the draft, which contains a number of mostly good recommendations. Already, a battle is brewing over when to close the existing Walter Reed campus. Operations were scheduled to move to new facilities in the area in 2011 as part of a cost- saving realignment, but some lawmakers want to delay the move indefinitely. The report, on the other hand, recommends closing the facility as soon as possible and accelerating work on new buildings at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda to accommodate the displaced patients.
Neither delay nor short- circuiting environmental review at the new site makes much sense. What is imperative is improving conditions at the current Walter Reed campus and ensuring that the eventual realignment occurs smoothly.