Gates at the gate

Rich Galen

3/5/2007 9:27:16 AM - Rich Galen

Washington is in full-throated roar over the conditions for, and treatment of, long-term recovering soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

The Washington Post ran a two-part series a couple of weeks ago about the conditions in what is known as Building 18, across the street from the Walter Reed complex.

Since that time, the Commanding General of the facility (who had only been in that job for about six months) was fired by the Secretary of the Army and replaced by the Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen Kevin Kiley who (a) said the Post articles had been "yellow journalism at its worst" and (b) had been the CG of Walter Reed between 2002 and 2004 where, according to the Washington Post: "was said by soldiers, their families and veterans' advocates to have long been aware of problems at the medical complex."

That caused the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to fire the Secretary of the Army on Friday and temporarily replace him with the Undersecretary of the Army, former Congressman Pete Geren of Texas.

The acting Secretary of the Army then fired Kiley from the Walter Reed job.

Robert Gates was sworn in as Secretary of Defense on December 18, 2006. That means he has been in that job for exactly 10 weeks today.

Gates said:

"I am disappointed that some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation … at Walter Reed. Some have shown too much defensiveness and have not shown enough focus on digging into and addressing the problems."

Yikes! An actual Cabinet Secretary saying that people in his Department should fix things and not complain about the coverage of the things which need to be fixed?

I don't think we can have this, do you?

The speed with which these changes have been made have left official Washington gasping in awe. This is a town where people spend significant portions of their days - indeed significant portions of their careers - making certain that no decision can be directly traced back to them unless and until it proves successful.

Of course the Sunday talk shows were replete with Senators and Congressmen crying crocodile tears on behalf of the soldiers and demanding the immediate appointment of committees, commissions, panels, boards, and groups to look into this situation.

Gates didn't wait for any recommendations from anyone outside his building. He fired people who demonstrated, as he put it, "a lack of leadership" and replaced them with other people who have heard the message: Fix it.

To be fair, every Member of the House and Senate cannot possibly know about every ill which is befalling every segment of society but it is impossible to believe that complaints from soldiers' families weren't coming into the offices of their Congressmen and Senators - so SOMEONE in the US Capitol Complex knew about the problems at Walter Reed.

As with all things in Washington, there will be a virulent overreaction to this abysmal situation leading to innocent people and organizations being splashed in the process.

For instance, the Department of Veterans Affairs (which does not operate Walter Reed) manages, according to its website, 1,264 facilities. It is likely that at some, perhaps many, of these facilities there are repairs which need to be made and Vets who have gotten lost in the system.

Be wary, as the Congress cranks up its highly-developed and well-practiced sense of outrage, of Representatives and Senators looking for publicity by highlighting the kinds of day-to-day issues which confront every hospital - military or civilian - and many patients - military or civilian.

The Congress should, of course, look into this and similar situations, but it would interesting for the Leadership to ask every Member to question every staffer to find out if any had been contacted about the situation at Walter Reed and what had been done in response.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to a summary of the activity surrounding Walter Reed over the past five days, a link to the VA page showing all facilities by state, and the official bio of Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Also another Galen/Lincoln Mullfoto and a Catchy Caption of the Day.