The widening scandal at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center is causing the careers of some of the Army's top brass to come to a very abrupt end -- and repercussions are being felt all the way to the top, as President Bush gets involved.
The Investigation Widens
Bush announced an investigation into the entire military medical system today in his weekly radio address.
"This review," the president said, "will examine their treatment from the time they leave the battlefield through their return to civilian life as veterans."
A series of investigations have followed reports by the Washington Post about squalid conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center. ABC News' Bob Woodruff's reports this week have also highlighted some of the shortcomings of military medicine.
In an Army shakeup, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired Army Secretary Francis Harvey. Gates said Harvey was too slow in responding to roach and mouse infestation and excessive red tape at Walter Reed.
One Soldier's Story
Take the case of Army Chief Warrant Officer James Lowman, hurt in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2005. He says he saw doctors at Balad Hospital in Iraq and Womack Army Medical Center in North Carolina. But they found no serious injuries. A civilian doctor finally diagnosed him, six months later, with a broken disc in his back. He says much more needs to be done.
"I think the military care that I've received hasn't been adequate in the sense that the providers that have seen me have not been qualified to give the diagnosis for the injuries that I've had, and it's been a struggle to get to the people that are qualified," Lowman said.
The Tip of the Iceberg
That's just not good enough according to the watchdog group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America.
"Walter Reed is really just the tip of the iceberg," said the group's executive director, Paul Rieckoff. "The [Department of Veteran's Affairs] is chronically under-resourced and under-funded."
The Iraq war veteran added that the organization is just not ready to serve the 1 million veterans who have battled in the war on terror.
And its not just poor conditions that are cause for concern. Last August, the VA's own inspector general listed 119 hospitals where improvements are needed. Among the problems: access to post-traumatic stress treatment.
Just ask Army Reserve Sgt. Larry Provost. He served at Ground Zero after 9/11, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Back home, he told a Virginia VA hospital he was suffering from post-traumatic stress. He says he was told to "Take a number."
"They just said there is such a backfill of GI's who are coming home and they didn't mean it personally," Provost said.
But Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson said such storiesare the exception.
"I'm committed to assuring and providing to America's veterans that even in a system that now has over 1 million patients visits a week that one failure is unacceptable," said Nicholson.
On Monday, a House committee will call on top Army officials to answer for problems at Walter Reed. But many veterans say the problems go much deeper than one hospital, that it's a reflection of a military system that is under-funded and overstretched by a war on two fronts.