James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Monday, March 12, 2007

Supporting troops the Bush way: Crush 'em

It is a very good thing that the press and broadcasters at last are telling the public about the abuse of wounded American soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

I emphasize “at last.”

Other than the abuse itself, what appalls anyone who pays very close attention to the news is that the story remained hidden from most citizens until the Washington Post produced a two-day, front page “investigative piece” on the Walter Reed situation Feb. 18 and 19.

Given the attention the articles got in Washington, other major dailies and even the mostly right-leaning broadcasters were forced to produce at least some coverage on the subject.

Be clear on this, however: Most of the story of the Bush administration's abuse of combat veterans and active fighting men and women, and the Pentagon's complicity in that brutal mistreatment, remains untold by broadcasters and almost all of the country's large newspapers.

Gutless wonders that they are, they apparently regard it as untouchable. Talk about coverups...

Those of us who pay close attention to the news knew of the deliberate mistreatment of the wounded three or four years ago or more -- almost since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, in fact, and in some cases even before, when our troops were being maimed in substantial numbers only in Afghanistan.

If we knew, if I knew sitting here in my home office, it is inconceivable that editors and some reporters for the country's television and radio networks, news services and major newspapers – most newspapers, in fact – didn't know.

I forwarded some reliable reports on the abysmal treatment of the wounded to editors of my local newspaper as much as two years ago; I got no response, and the paper did nothing with the reports.

It is impossible that most of the now ever-so-righteous members of Congress and, most particularly, military officers and White House officials, didn't know.

Frankly, m'friends, the only conclusion one can reach is that they don't give a damn.

It seems obvious that editors and legislators and military officers suddenly have jumped on the wagon because an “investigative” team saw the story – or the Post's management finally smelled a Pulitzer – and the wider public couldn't be kept in the dark any longer.

(I put “investigative” in quotes because what is now “investigative reporting” is simply reporting. Through most of my 40-plus years in print journalism all news reporters at major dailies were expected to nose around every day and at least occasionally to dig deep to produce stories that the public needed to see even though the powerful would rather keep them hidden.)

I knew about the abuses of the wounded – and many more sickening activities of the wretched Bush crowd and it's cowardly generals and admirals – because several organizations have been reporting on them on line and in small publications since the shooting started.

Salon, a large Web magazine, and United Press International, in the person of Mark Robinson, have reported on many of the examples of ill treatment of veterans since 2003.

Veterans for America, an organization led primarily by Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, has reported regularly on the mistreatment of veterans for years. It has sent out thoroughly documented stories on Walter Reed and other medical centers, and on the failures of the military system to properly assess wounds and, especially egregiously, its failures in diagnosing and treating war-born mental and emotional problems.

It also has told the horrific tale of benefits delayed literally for years and of benefits earned but denied by a Pentagon striving to keep the money to spend on more killing rather than paying it to those who earned it with their blood and bone.

Other stories, less frequent but equally reliable, have been published by The Nation, New Republic, the Army Times and other small but reputable publications and on line by TomPaine.common sense, AlterNet, Truthout and more.

Lordy, even Playboy published a piece last month on the obscene failure to provide mental health care for active duty military personnel and Iraq war veterans. Reporter Mark Boal noted that the Department of Defense has recognized only about 2,000 cases of post traumatic stress disorder a year, although the Army's own researchers (and others) estimated that 13,000 to 20,000 new cases of the condition develop each year the fighting continues.

Boal quoted former government officials as saying the underdiagnosis is deliberate and caused by Bush administration and Pentagon pressure to save money. Several other reports have confirmed that finding.

If the editors and reporters at the networks and corporate newspapers remained ignorant of such reports until last month, they are shamefully, pitifully incompetent. If they knew and did nothing, which must be the truth, they are cowards as well as incompetent fools. The only reason for withholding coverage is fear – fear of the Bush crowd and it's monied supporters who also are local powers, fear of very rich owners who lean far to the right, and even fear of the wrath of right wing war lovers among the general public. Much easier not to disturb such people.

The organizations mentioned above – Veterans for America and the rest -- have reported malfeasance like that at Walter Reed at most, if not all, military medical facilities where the wounded and physically and mentally ill are treated – or not treated though they should be.

Another piece of the story that hasn't been reported by big newspapers or broadcasters is the fact that a substantial hunk of the mess at Walter Reed is directly the result of the Bush crowd's insistence on “privatizing” everything they can find to hand over to their profit-hunting corporate supporters. Much was let slip while various players – not including the voiceless veterans – argued over whether the military should continue to use it's own employees or turn over much of the management of the facility to a private contractor.

Among other things, the fight -- which, of course, was won by the privateers -- seriously hurt employee morale and led managers to let things slip, according to a report on TomPaine.common sense. The managers figured they could hand all the problems over to the contractor, it said.

The contracting company, incidentally, is headed by Al Neffgen, who previously was chief operating officer of KBR Government Operations, a subsidiary of our old friend, Halliburton.

He was a senior executive at Halliburton, handling the company's military contracts in Iraq, when the latter was caught serving contaminated food in military mess halls and providing the troops with bathing water contaminated with human feces. The supplying of bad food and water went on for more than a year in 2004 and 2005.

More stories you haven't seen unless you get the small magazines or search the Internet daily:

* Thousands of military veterans, some going back as far as World War II, have been waiting years, even decades, for a little-known appeals court in Washington to decide on their claims for disability payments. According to Veterans for America, many, probably hundreds, have died waiting. Members of the seven-member court are appointed by the president. Last year the court decided 2,842 cases and recorded 3,729 new claims. Republican Sen. Larry Craig has predicted that the backlog of cases will total 10,000 within five years.

* Veterans for America also reported on the administration's failure to increase staffing and other resources for mental health treatment at Veterans Administration centers despite a huge increase in demand because of Bush's two wars.

Drawing its information entirely from two federal government reports, the vets organization said 40 percent of Vet Administration centers have assigned veterans who need individual therapy into group therapy, 30 percent of the centers say they are badly in need of additional staffing, 25 percent have cut services despite the increase in demand and 20 percent said they have little or no capability to provide counseling or therapy for families of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

* When criticized for the failure to care for mentally and emotionally scarred war veterans, the Bush administration frequently calls on Sally Satel, a wildly right wing psychiatrist who is on the staff of the American Enterprise Institute, one of the radical right's don't-think tanks. Her defense of Bush & Co. is that paying veterans for psychiatric disabilities causes “motivation to hold a job to wane.” (Reported by Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus, Nov. 14, 2006.)

* Veterans for America again: the VA health care system now is expecting to treat 263,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan this year – and that's three times the number originally projected. The available facilities, money and personnel are inadequate to the job at this point.

* Some of the loudest supporters of Bush's wars, the most adamant Republican members of Congress have the worst records when it comes to funding and other legislation to support troops and veterans. Some of the war's biggest critics have the best records on such action. (TomPaine.common sense, Nov. 7, 2006.)

Some ways, other than medical, that the Bush White House and Republicans in Congress “support our troops:”

* This is one story you may have seen, buried in your local newspaper – or maybe not. The Baltimore Sun originated the story in January on the fact that the troops being sent to Iraq in Bush's escalation of the war are being sent over without the armored vehicles they need.

Four years into the war, the military still doesn't have enough of such vehicles – which are absolutely necessary to prevent wholesale casualties. The Army admitted in congressional hearings that it had only about three quarters of the armored Humvees it needs for the troops already in Iraq and that it wouldn't have enough such vehicles for another eight months.

Of course, you recall that there wasn't adequate body armor for most of the soldiers in Iraq for the first two years of the conflict -- or longer in some cases.

The military in Iraq also is short of other equipment, of course.

* Grandparents raising children of soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are routinely, always, denied benefits to help raise the kids. The benefits are paid to surviving spouses, but not to grandparents raising the orphans and, according to the Washington Post, there are quite a few such situations.

* The Army Times reports that the Army deliberately is holding down costs by giving veterans disability retirement ratings that are lower than they obviously should get. The vets “are being systematically underrated,” said Ron Smith, deputy general counsel for Disabled American Veterans.

* In the midst of a war, the number of soliders approved for permanent disability retirement has dropped by more than two -thirds even as the total number of those wounded in Iraq has soared past 15,000 (and some say much higher), the Army Times reported.

Oh, yeah: Just one more little story, one that did make the Minneapolis newspaper because it directly affects a significant number of members of the Minnesota National Guard. (If you live elsewhere, you may not have seen this story.)

The Pentagon is considering cutting combat pay for soldiers assigned to peacekeeping in Kosovo. The Star Tribune said the cuts could cost each of the Minnesota guardsmen and others – and their families – hundreds of dollars a month.

Members of a Mankato, Minn., Guard unit will be sent to Kosovo for the second time later this year. If the cuts go through, many of the families will fall into serious financial difficulty, Guard members said.

Support our troops.