Wondering what the cost of six years of Republican neglect of the troops means? Read this:
On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.
Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.
"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."
How dare Brit Hume of Faux News sit on the Sunday program yesterday and accuse Rep. Jack Murtha of not understanding the reality of things on the ground. Rep. Murtha visits Walter Reed on a weekly basis, and he regularly meets privately with the brass at the Pentagon and asks them to be honest — really honest — about how things really are, not just the current public PR Snow Job.
Here's some reality, Brit: take some of your big time newsboy paycheck and donate it to help the families of soldiers and the soldiers themselves. Volunteer some of your time at a local VA hospital. Volunteer some time helping to do repairs at the home of a widow of one of our soldiers killed in combat — because she can't afford to call a plumber to come and fix her problem.
But if you aren't doing any of these things, if you are not getting up off your pampered ass and actually DOING tangible things to help our troops and their families? Then your opinion is meaningless to me, Brit. I live in West Virginia, surrounded by the families and friends of folks who have served in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq. I see the cost of George Bush's failures every single day.
Finally, the yawning hulk sits up in bed. "Okay, baby," he says. An American flag T-shirt is stretched over his chest. He reaches for his dog tags, still the devoted soldier of 19 years, though his life as a warrior has become a paradox. One day he's led on stage at a Toby Keith concert with dozens of other wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom troops from Mologne House, and the next he's sitting in a cluttered cubbyhole at Walter Reed, fighting the Army for every penny of his disability.
McLeod, 41, has lived at Mologne House for a year while the Army figures out what to do with him. He worked in textile and steel mills in rural South Carolina before deploying. Now he takes 23 pills a day, prescribed by various doctors at Walter Reed. Crowds frighten him. He is too anxious to drive. When panic strikes, a soldier friend named Oscar takes him to Baskin-Robbins for vanilla ice cream.
"They find ways to soothe each other," Annette says.
Mostly what the soldiers do together is wait: for appointments, evaluations, signatures and lost paperwork to be found. It's like another wife told Annette McLeod: "If Iraq don't kill you, Walter Reed will."
In what universe is this acceptable? You send these soldiers off to have their bodies and their spirits broken in a war that you chose to start, because you, the President of the United States — the commander of the most powerful military force on our planet — got into a pissing match with an equally egotistical dictator, throwing rhetoric and insults back and forth without ever really sitting down to consider the long term consequences before you so blithely threw our soldiers (and the innocent Iraqis trapped in their current civil war hell) into some nightmarish meat grinder.
And what happens when those soldiers return home, their bodies broken, their spirits struggling to stay intact? You herd them out to public ceremonies so that they can serve as props for the cameras, to show just how compassionate you really are. Except, you aren't really that compassionate — it is an elaborately staged sham.
Perks and stardom do not come to every amputee. Sgt. David Thomas, a gunner with the Tennessee National Guard, spent his first three months at Walter Reed with no decent clothes; medics in Samarra had cut off his uniform. Heavily drugged, missing one leg and suffering from traumatic brain injury, David, 42, was finally told by a physical therapist to go to the Red Cross office, where he was given a T-shirt and sweat pants. He was awarded a Purple Heart but had no underwear.
David tangled with Walter Reed's image machine when he wanted to attend a ceremony for a fellow amputee, a Mexican national who was being granted U.S. citizenship by President Bush. A case worker quizzed him about what he would wear. It was summer, so David said shorts. The case manager said the media would be there and shorts were not advisable because the amputees would be seated in the front row.
" 'Are you telling me that I can't go to the ceremony 'cause I'm an amputee?' " David recalled asking. "She said, 'No, I'm saying you need to wear pants.' "
David told the case worker, "I'm not ashamed of what I did, and y'all shouldn't be neither." When the guest list came out for the ceremony, his name was not on it.
Look, I understand the fear that someone might have anger issues and disrupt an official ceremony. I also understand the need for a perfectly choreographed PR stunt for this White House, which cannot afford any public miscues from people who actually risked their lives and limbs for this folly of an occupation. This soldier lost his leg in Iraq, and because he wasn't perhaps socially couth enough to be in the spotlight with the President, he wasn't allowed to attend a ceremony for his best friend.
Not acceptable. At no time is that acceptable. Period.
Arm chair patriots can stick all the magnets they want on their SUVs and drive around feeling all smug and satisfied with themselves. True patriots get off their butts and do something to make the lives of our soldiers and their families better, while trying to end the mess and misery in which they are currently stuck. You want some ideas on what you can do, Brit? Start here.
And please, take some time to contact your members of Congress and tell them that the treatment that our soldiers are receiving is not acceptable. Period. And that it is well past time to bring the troops home from George Bush's failure.
John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Brit Hume can fuss and fume about the President's reputation and legacy all they want — I'd rather have our troops home, safe, and in one piece. And being treated with the dignity and care that they deserve — that they have earned risking their lives in our nation's uniform. How dare they treat our nation's soldiers this way and expend all that hot air calling anyone who questions them unpatriotic? How dare they.