Today via live broadcast of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Americans heard horror stories of U.S. veterans neglected and abused in a Kafkaesque Department of Defense medical system. The hero of today's witnesses, soft-spoken Annette McLeod talked...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 03/05/2007

Today via live broadcast of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Americans heard horror stories of U.S. veterans neglected and abused in a Kafkaesque Department of Defense medical system

The hero of today's witnesses, soft-spoken Annette McLeod talked of cruel case workers and manipulative bureaucrats denying veterans' access to much needed medical care.  Giving one shocking example after another, McLeod described one instance where a Walter Reed staff member tried to reclassify her husband as mentally retarded to prevent him from receiving necessary, but costly medical care. 

McLeod's husband,  National Guardsman Cpl. Wendell McLeod, is in the system to receive care for brain injuries he sustained in Iraq. 

"He got treatment a dog didn't deserve," said McLeod to a panel of stunned Committee members.

Interestingly, while the initial Washington Post article that broke this story focused on the "neglect" of injured soldiers, the subsequent media  coverage has focused up to this point on the physical conditions of the Walter Reed facility.

The testimony of Annette McLeod signals a clear shift in the focus of the debate--a shift away from dispassionate discussion of decayed building "conditions" to an emotional talk of the "neglect" and abuse of injured veterans in a system that prioritizes cutting medical costs over care.

Veterans Talk of "Neglect," Bush Tries To Focus Debate on "Conditions"
In his radio address this week, President Bush mentioned his commitment to "care" for injured veterans, but it is clear that his framing strategy is to focus the debate on the "conditions" of the buildings and to minimize the denial of care with deceptive references to "bureaucratic delays":

These servicemen and women deserve the thanks of our country, and they deserve the best care our Nation can provide. That is why I was deeply troubled by recent reports of substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Most of the people working at Walter Reed are dedicated professionals. These fine doctors, nurses, and therapists care deeply about our wounded troops, and they work day and night to help them. Yet some of our troops at Walter Reed have experienced bureaucratic delays and living conditions that are less than they deserve. This is unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to our country, and it's not going to continue.

On hearing the reports about Walter Reed, I asked Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to assess the situation firsthand and report back to me. He confirmed that there are real problems at Walter Reed, and he's taken action to hold people accountable, including relieving the general in charge of the facility. Secretary Gates has also formed an independent review group that will investigate how this situation was allowed to happen, how it can be fixed, and how we can prevent it from happening again. Walter Reed has a long tradition of outstanding medical service, and my Administration will ensure that the soldiers recovering there are treated with the dignity and respect they have earned.

As we work to improve conditions at Walter Reed, we're also taking steps to find out whether similar problems have occurred at other military and veterans hospitals.

(full text here)

Listening to the testimony of the witnesses, today, it appeared that injured veterans did not suffer "bureaucratic delays" so much as systematic efforts to reduce costs by denying medical care  to veterans.

A political debate about the Department of Defense medical system that continued to focus on "conditions" of the buildings rather than the "neglect" of patients would further exacerbate the sufferings of veterans and their families.   

Framing Focus:  People
While public broadcast hearings represent an important step in resolving this crisis, there is a significant risk that the White House will try to hide the full extent of the veteran care problem in an aggressive PR campaign.

To avoid falling victim to White House spin in the Walter Reed debate,  progressives can frame the debate with keywords that emphasize people instead of buildings, experience rather than conditions.

These keywords might include:

  • neglect
  • abuse
  • cruel
  • emotional
  • suffering
  • heartbreaking
  • people
  • families
  • Treated in ways "a dog didn't deserve."

These keywords can help focus the debate on the horrific and shameful experiences of injured veterans in the medical care system without allowing the White House to deflect the issue to questions of building maintenance.

©  Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2007, Frameshop

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