Monday, March 12, 2007

Army Surgeon General Let Off The Hook

The name of the derelict Surgeon General was Kevin Kiley, who had angrily told Congress he never once toured the facilities at the Army's main medical hospital, snarling, "I don't do barracks inspections." Yesterday he was asked to retire, and did so, admitting it was "for the good of the Army." This may sound like progress, but in truth the Army wimped out. Kiley should have been summarily relieved of his command, demoted, and brought up on an Article 143 (dereliction of duty) charge. Only that or similar decisive action will send the right signals to soldiers and the nation they serve.

Last month, The Washington Post published a series of articles on Walter Reed Army Hospital conditions, how they and their families were burdened by obstructive, Kafkaesque layers of red tape and were consistently under-graded in terms of their true disability. But it's like that all through the system for veterans. Defense Secretary Gates forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign and sacrificed Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, in charge of Walter Reed only since August 2006. Kiley, who should have been knocked on the head first, got the kid-glove treatment. Further investigations into the hospital scandal will be led by former Senator Bob Dole and Secretary of Health Donna Shalala. Right.

Ever notice how no one talks about the number of wounded? There are no official statistics to release. Compiling them or discussing the sheer numbers of them would, to use Cheney-speak, "undermine support for the troops." And Iraq is not just a physical meat grinder; it's the hardest duty there is psychologically, putting troops under constant stress of a type they weren't trained for. In addition to the physically wounded, most soldiers who went on patrols month after month will suffer from some lasting level of PTSD.

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