Were the Problems at Walter Reed Identified in 2004?

Harper's Magazine

Meet Michael Kussman, the man Bush is slated to promote to Undersecretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Today Salon’s Mark Benjamin takes a look at a survey, designed to identify problems in veterans’ health care, that was completed back in 2004. (A complete copy of the survey report is posted in pdf format at Salon.) The survey reveals thorough familiarity with the conditions at Walter Reed three years ago—and consequently, that the Bush administration’s claims that it simply didn’t know are not true.

Paul Sullivan, who until March 2006 was a project manager at the VA in charge of data on returning veterans, told Salon that Kussman’s role troubles him. “Kussman knew in 2004 that Walter Reed was a disaster,” fumed Sullivan, “and thousands and thousands of veterans have needlessly suffered long delays.”

Sullivan questioned why the military and the VA apparently did not address these problems two and a half years ago. “The VA had clear and unambiguous warning that Walter Reed was a fiasco in 2004,” Sullivan said. “There is no way they can say they did not know . . . The question is, did they share this with the Department of Defense [which runs Walter Reed] in 2004?”

The VA shares responsibility for treating and compensating wounded soldiers with the Department of Defense. Both the Department of Defense and the VA provide outpatient health care. Both provide long-term benefits through complex evaluation systems designed to weigh the value of service-connected health problems. The Seamless Transition Task Force was created to coordinate and streamline the two agencies’ overlapping healthcare and benefits programs and help soldiers navigate the bureaucratic jungle.

A review of the survey itself leaves no doubt as to the magnitude of the unhappiness and indignation expressed by soldiers housed at Walter Reed. It makes clear that Kussman would have known about this. Yet he appears to have done nothing. George Bush and his team love to talk about support for the troops. The conditions at Walter Reed invite serious question as to whether this is anything more than hollow rhetoric.

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