In Sunday's Washington Post, Dana Priest and Anne Hull described the woeful conditions of Room 205 in Walter Reed's Building 18: "Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole."
The Army mobilized. Painters were deployed to cover the offending wall with a fresh coat of white semigloss. And television crews were invited in to inspect the result.
"Some of the paint is still wet against that wall, so be careful," Walter Reed public affairs officer Donald Vandrey, standing on the bed in his socks, advised the film crews. "They just finished repainting it about 10 minutes ago."
Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley thought so. After the media tour of Building 18, the Army's surgeon general gave a news conference. "I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard," he said of a facility Priest and Hull found full of "mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses" and other delights. "We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren't serious, and there weren't a lot of them."
Kiley might have had a stronger case if men wearing Tyvek hazmat suits and gas masks hadn't walked through the lobby while the camera crews waited for the tour to start, or if he hadn't acknowledged, moments later, that the entire building would have to be closed for a complete renovation. The general also seemed to miss a larger point identified by other officials: Walter Reed's problem isn't of mice and mold but a bureaucracy that has impeded the recovery of wounded soldiers.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Sometimes, I wish I was making it up.