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Honor, Don't Exploit, Our Military Wounded

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

As has been infrequently reported, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan progressed, a number of members of our military became somewhat dismayed and disturbed by the almost complete lack of positive coverage printed or aired by the U.S. media.

Now, over five years into those conflicts, they have come to accept the sad reality that for much of our media, their decisive victories against the enemy, their critically important intelligence intercepts, their comrades lost in-the-line-of-fire protecting Iraqi and Afghani civilians, and the growing trust they have painstakingly cultivated with those civilian populations, has been deemed “non-newsworthy” by their own press corps. They don’t like it, but realize that the ethics, judgment, and bias of some in the media, is beyond their control.

That said, there is one element of these conflicts that Pentagon leadership wishes the media would do a better job of covering in a more positive manner. That being the exceptional medical and psychological care being offered to our “Wounded Warriors.”

In two separate meetings at the Pentagon with some of that leadership, I learned of their growing frustration with the lack of coverage of a success story that not only brings great credit to our military doctors and nurses, but can positively impact the entire spectrum of U.S. civilian health care.

In a recent speech on the subject, Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, said, “…the conflict we are in is the longest America has waged with an all-volunteer force since the Revolutionary war…when a young American steps forward of his own free will to serve, he or she does so with the expectation that they and their families will be properly taken care of should something happen on the battlefield. After the wars themselves, I have no higher priority.”

Other than those on the fringe-left, I know of no person who does not believe Mr. Gates to be his own man. From his lengthy career with the Central Intelligence Agency, to his service in the Air Force, to his service with the National Security Council, to his stint as Director of Central Intelligence, to his recent sacking of the Air Force’s top military and civilian leaders for nuclear “mix-ups,” Gates has proven himself a man who places integrity and the good of the nation before partisanship.

In February of 2007, soon after Mr. Gates became Secretary of Defense, the Washington Post broke the Walter Reed Army Medical Center “neglect scandal.” While most of the story dealt with deficiencies in non-medical care for wounded warriors, Gates and his team still took immediate action. Nothing was swept under the rug, people were disciplined or fired, and an unprecedented partnership between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs was created to ensure the situation was never replicated.

Predictably, much of the media only focused on the negative, used the story as a club to beat on the despised Bush Administration, and in the process, adversely affected the morale of highly competent and dedicated military doctors and nurses. Almost all of the positives that resulted from this story ended up on the cutting room floor.

One of those positives being the Commission created by President Bush to “Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors.” A Commission headed up by former Clinton Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, and my old boss, former Senator Bob Dole. A Commission, that, working in hand in hand with DoD and Veteran’s Affairs, has already improved an impressive military health care system.

At the beginning of these conflicts, and when I was still working for Senator Dole, I had the opportunity to join him on couple of very emotional visits to Walter Reed. While seeing none of the problems outlined by the Washington Post, I did have the honor to speak with a number of our wounded warriors. To a person, they all said they just wanted to get better so they could rejoin their comrades in combat. It’s a type of character, determination and loyalty you will be hard-pressed to find in any other profession.

Years ago, many of the wounds these soldiers suffered, would have been fatal. Today, because of improvements in armor protection, battlefield medicine and the care they receive in our military hospitals, many of these young men and women not only survived, but did return to combat and their comrades. Even, I’m told, amazingly, but not surprising when you meet these remarkable young men and women, a number of amputees.

The Pentagon has a tremendous story to tell with regard to the progress being made in the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), psychological health, and personal and professional accountability. So far, they have virtually no takers.

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