'It Is Just Not Walter Reed'
This is supposed to be a surprise? Of course it's not just Walter Reed. While constantly bloviating about "support the troops" the administration and the Republicans have treated them like Just so much cannon fodder from day one. And of course it's not just the war - not just the veterans. As Paul Krugman explains in Valor and Squalor the Bush administration didn't get elected to govern - to serve, but to pillage the treasury for a wealthy few who happen to be their friends and supporters.
What makes this a particular shame is that in the Clinton years, veterans’ health care — like the Federal Emergency Management Agency — became a shining example of how good leadership can revitalize a troubled government program. By the early years of this decade the Veterans Health Administration was, by many measures, providing the highest-quality health care in America. (It probably still is: Walter Reed is a military facility, not run by the V.H.A.)But there is much more than penny pinching involved. Yes we are talking about the "P" word - privatization - the primary tool of the pillager.
But as with FEMA, the Bush administration has done all it can to undermine that achievement. And the Walter Reed scandal is another Hurricane Katrina: the moment when the administration’s misgovernment became obvious to everyone.
The problem starts with money. The administration uses carefully cooked numbers to pretend that it has been generous to veterans, but the historical data contained in its own budget for fiscal 2008 tell the true story. The quagmire in Iraq has vastly increased the demands on the Veterans Administration, yet since 2001 federal outlays for veterans’ medical care have actually lagged behind overall national health spending.
To save money, the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services. For example, in 2005 Salon reported that some Walter Reed patients were forced to pay hundreds of dollars each month for their meals.
We know from Hurricane Katrina postmortems that one of the factors degrading FEMA’s effectiveness was the Bush administration’s relentless push to outsource and privatize disaster management, which demoralized government employees and drove away many of the agency’s most experienced professionals. It appears that the same thing has been happening to veterans’ care.The Bush administration has failed to govern because the have no interest in governing. A government by the wealthy few for the wealthy few.
The redoubtable Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, points out that IAP Worldwide Services, a company run by two former Halliburton executives, received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances: the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply.
And Mr. Waxman, who will be holding a hearing on the issue today, appears to have solid evidence, including an internal Walter Reed memo from last year, that the prospect of privatization led to a FEMA-type exodus of skilled personnel.
What comes next? Francis J. Harvey, who as far as I can tell was the first defense contractor appointed secretary of the Army, has been forced out. But the parallels between what happened at Walter Reed and what happened to New Orleans — not to mention parallels with the mother of all scandals, the failed reconstruction of Iraq — tell us that the roots of the scandal run far deeper than the actions of a few bad men.
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