Levin, Lieberman Slam Military Health Care

Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, Face The Nation
CBS/AP
Over the last two weeks, the country has been shocked to learn about the appalling conditions in which some wounded war veterans are living at Walter Reed Military Hospital.

Many rooms are in various states of disrepair. Some are mold and rat infested. Anne Hull, the Washington Post reporter who helped break the news, said the shabby state of the rooms was just a small part of the problem. The real crisis is that many troops were languishing in the bureaucracy of the military health system.

After the story broke, the military rushed in to make repairs, but first tried to blame it on low-ranking enlisted men. As the pressure mounted, the hospital commander General George Weightman was fired. On Friday, Francis Harvey, the secretary of the Army was forced out as well.

In the wake of the scandal, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., visited the hospital with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

"I'm afraid, Bob, that it's the tip of the iceberg," Lieberman told Bob Schieffer. "You could fix the walls and get rid of the rodents, but what that series has uncovered, I believe, is that we are not keeping the moral responsibility we have for the men and women who are fighting for us in the war on terrorism, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Lieberman said as hundreds of thousands of veterans continue to pour back into the country, the need for top medical care will increase and it will not be cheap.

"These men and women are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us Americans," he said. "We've got to be willing — even if it requires a special tax increase — to support more services for our veterans, to give them the best from the battlefield to when they get back home."

Levin said the main problem is that the Bush administration has taken the country to war and refuses to be held accountable for it.

"There's been a real shortage of accountability in this administration, particularly at the higher levels, for mistakes which have been made," Levin said. "And you'd go all the way back to before 9/11, when the warnings that we got were not heeded, and nobody was held accountable to Abu Ghraib, to all the other mistakes which have been made."

The Defense Department says about 25,000 or 30,000 troops have been wounded, but the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says 200,000 have sought treatment. Levin said committees in the Senate will be holding hearings on these discrepancies and try to "fill the cracks between the two agencies."

While care on the battlefield is excellent, soldiers often come home to long trails of paperwork and an overwhelmed the Department of Veterans Affairs, Lieberman said. The VA needs an urgent review from the president and from Congress, he said.

"The Army is in disarray," Hull said. "They had four years of casualties. We had one soldier who had to bring his Purple Heart to prove that he even served in Iraq. We had a medic who served three tours and had to bring in pictures of herself in Iraq to prove she served. And every day these small insults added up to just a very hard experience for people living there."

Even more troubling, Hull said, is that the situation at Walter Reed is not an isolated experience. It is happening all over the country as veterans struggle to receive proper out-patient treatment.

"There are other outpatients living on military posts around the country in less than good living conditions and dealing with the same bureaucracy and the same fight with the Army over their disability ratings," she said. "That's the real battle for most of these folks."