Friday, March 2, 2007

Crack the Whip, Claire!

Missouri’s junior senator, Clair McCaskill (who I worked tirelessly to elect) is emerging at the forefront of the Medical Hold scandal. After careful and considerable deliberation, McCaskill issued a statement yesterday calling for the firing of Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley. McCaskills remarks came in the wake of Maj. Gen. George Weightman, Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s commander, being relieved of his command earlier in the day.

“It’s clear that General Kiley, the surgeon general at the Army, knew about the conditions at Building 18,” McCaskill said. “The irony of this situation is General [George] Weightman stepped up. He’s only been there a year.” McCaskill said in calling for the resignation or firing of General Kiley.

Kiley is the former commander of Walter Reed, and the Washington Post reported Thursday that he was informed of the problems in 2003 that, unpalliated, have emerged as a scandal in 2007. Yet Weightman is relieved of command, and Kiley is back in charge.

“I Felt Sick”

“This is about a system that is not trying to make it easy for the wounded to get what they deserve,” McCaskill said during a news conference Thursday with Obama after introducing their bill.

[Snip past the commentary about Obama’s rock-star status]

How did McCaskill, still waiting to move into a permanent office on the Hill, seize the reins on such a highly charged issue with such a high-megawatt candidate for the White House?

Upon reading the Sunday newspaper reports, “I felt sick,” McCaskill said.

“Somewhere along the line, someone saw this and said to themselves, ‘We’re not supposed to complain.’ Any fresh set of eyes looking at rotting ceilings and peeling mold, and realizing our battle-weary men and women are being forced into those circumstances would say, ‘Whoa. This is wrong.’ Somebody ought to have pounded the table somewhere.”

She directed her staff to collect information about the problems and how she could help fix them.

In the Senate hierarchy, McCaskill knows her place — fourth from the bottom in seniority. She figured more senior colleagues would quickly wade into the controversy. The outrage level was blinking red, after all. Still, there was no harm in being prepared.

At the time she directed her “staff” to get on it, that staff still consisted of one overworked legislative assistant – but she has since added more, including an infantry Captain who was part of the Iraqi invasion to advise her on military affairs. One of his first acts was to go tour Walter Reed.
Earlier this week, McCaskill and her top aides gathered in her small, temporary office to prep her for her own tour Wednesday. A key question to the hospital brass would be: In light of the problems, where is the accountability going to be in the senior chain of command?

McCaskill was already cynical: “It’s going to be like the prison,” she told them, referring to the scandal over Abu Ghraib, a U.S. military prison in Baghdad. “The guys at the bottom will be held accountable and the guys at the top will not.”

Stepping up

After her tour, she said most of the top officials she met recognized how steep a climb they face to restore trust. But some “seemed very closed-minded and defensive,” she said. “One bragged this process has to be dispassionate, which seems to me to be oxymoronic.”

Her bill with Obama has begun to draw bipartisan support, including the backing of Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, a Republican. Hearings on the problems will start next week.

“Introducing legislation is not anything exceptional,” said Ross K. Baker, an expert on the Senate at Rutgers University. “What is exceptional is if it eventually improves the conditions at Walter Reed. She would be in a charmed circle. Very few freshmen are able to author a major piece of legislation.”

Keep it up, Claire. You occupy the seat once held by Harry S Truman. It is your legacy as the occupant of that seat to hold feet to the fire, blisters be damned.

McClatchy recaps the scandal highlights for your convenience

Problems at Walter Reed

The problems at Walter Reed pertain not to the quality of medical treatment for wounded soldiers but rather to the care for those who are well enough to be outpatients:

•Seriously wounded soldiers outnumber hospital staff 17 to 1. As a result, recovering soldiers, some with psychological issues, are asked to oversee other patients.

•Case managers for the wounded are overwhelmed and sometimes untrained.

•Building 18, a decrepit former hotel housing 80 recovering soldiers, had mold on the walls, secondhand furniture, soiled carpets, rodents and cockroaches.

•Bureaucratic delays stem from Army computer systems that do not interact, leaving the typical soldier to file 22 different documents with eight Army commands.

•Disoriented patients and their relatives get little help dealing with the 113-acre campus or the confusing paperwork.

[crossposted from Watching Those We Chose]

No comments: