August 18, 2008 – Twenty soldiers told USA TODAY’s Gregg Zoroya last week that complaints regarding mold at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., went unanswered for months and that they were later ordered not to publicly speak about the facility’s poor conditions.
In response, Army officials replaced ventilation ducts in two barracks that had been encrusted with mold and Maj. Gen. Peter Vangiel, the commanding officer at the base, said it was “inappropriate” for soldiers to be prohibited from talking about problems at the facility, according to USA TODAY.
The Fort Sill story comes 18 months after The Post’s Dana Priest and Anne Hull explored conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington. The series not only uncovered problems at Walter Reed, once dubbed the “crown jewel” of military medical operaitons, but also highlighted “depressing living conditions for outpatients at other military bases around the country, from Fort Lewis in Washington state to Fort Dix in New Jersey.”
The reaction to the series was bold and swift: The commander of the facility, Army Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, was fired, as was the secretary of the Army, Francis J. Harvey, within a month of the report; Bush appointed a commission tasked with examining the care of wounded veterans, which recommended the creation of a national caseworker system along with a complete overhaul of military disability compensation policy; and a panel proposed closing down Walter Reed earlier than 2011, the year the Army medical operation is moved to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
The Post’s coverage prompted closer scrutiny of other facilities across the country, including the Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash.
In March 2007, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on complaints about Madigan by the non-profit Operation Homefront. The advocacy group cited “extended delays in making the Defense Department’s so-called seamless transition from military to Veterans Affairs Department medical care — and suffered because of cuts among the caseworkers who help them through the wait,” according to the newspaper.
Soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., meanwhile, told The Philadelphia Inquirer early this year that they saw large-scale improvements in care after the establishment of a temporary Soldier and Family Assistance Center, one of more than 30 similar facilities built by the Army in response to the Walter Reed scandal.
But at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee last month, Army leadership conceded the system still struggles with significant problems.
“Committee investigators had visited Army medical facilities and came back with ominous statistics,” reported The Post’s Dana Milbank. “At Fort Hood, Tex., last month, they found that a ‘warrior transition unit’ designed to support 649 had 1,342 soldiers, with 350 more on a waiting list. Instead of the promised 74 nurse case managers, there were 38. Other facilities ‘would shortly experience similar shortages’ or already had.”