Mark Shields on the Walter Reed debacle

He was quite eloquent last night on the News Hour discussing the Washington Post articles on the lack of care for our wounded veterans.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the troops, what do you think of the Walter Reed story that the Washington Post broke and has been covering?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, I’d like to say it’s a great tribute to the positive power of a free press. That Dana Priest and Anne Hull and the editors of the Washington Post put it on the front page on a Sunday and a Monday, and it got a result.

Families all over this country have been complaining about the treatment out there. It got nowhere. It didn’t get a hearing in the Congress. It didn’t get the kind of coverage it should have gotten.

And there’s a terrible political reality here. These people, these young Americans who’ve gone over there, and they’re wounded, are not — their parents do not summer in Nantucket or Santa Fe. Their mothers don’t wear designer originals. Their fathers are not friends of Bill, and they aren’t Pioneers or Rangers for George W. Bush.

These people come from modest backgrounds, and they don’t have any clout. They don’t have any lobbyists on their side. They don’t have any political action committee. They have absolutely no advocates and no voice, and, in this case, the free press was their voice.

Shame on all of us for not being there first. I mean, I haven’t been out to Walter Reed myself, and I haven’t been aware. But it’s more than Building 18. It isn’t a mold story or a mice story.

It’s a story about bureaucratic indifference, about making these — putting them in an adversarial relationship, instead of recognizing the enormous cost that you pay for going into combat, and the psychological trauma and damage and wounds that these people carry for the rest of their life.

And of course, knowledge of this has been around for a while. Salon reported on the problems a couple of years ago.

UPDATE: For more on the Army’s bureaucratic problems and how hard disabled vets have to struggle to get benefits, read today’s Washington Post cover story “Battle Worn”, by the most excellent Paula Span.

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