PUBLISHED: 4:34 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Our wounded deserve better

Your local paper should be a forum for local problems and people, not just the issue-of-the-moment on the national radar.

But occasionally some issues are so universal that they demand attention, even if they are beyond our borders.

This is such a time.

Few things have turned up my burner lately more than the heart-breaking reports of how poorly many of our wounded soldiers returning from Iraq have been treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.

It's become clear that many U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq have languished for months, sometimes years, while awaiting long-term care.

In many cases state-of-the-art triage saved their lives on the battlefield only to have bureaucracy and neglect keep them from getting on with those lives, or even getting the most basic of care.

Recovering wounded were housed in filthy, moldy ancient buildings.

Many saw more rats and bugs than doctors. The injuries more common to this conflict - head and brain injuries, multiple lost limbs - have been especially neglected, with some amputees waiting years for prosthetics and rehabilitation.

Those without families willing to fight long and loud for treatment have been all but abandoned, in some cases not receiving any new treatment or even information on treatment for months or years.

These warriors who gave their all for us - their futures, their limbs, some share of their very souls - are being parked in deplorable quarters like broken cars in a junk yard.

A lousy handoff between the military health system and Veterans Affairs, which handles long-term veterans health care after soldiers leave the service, is at the root of the problem.

So is inadequate funding.

And the recurring attempt to ignore anything that reinforces the horrible cost of this war.

The top brass, right up to the White House, plead ignorance about the conditions. But ignorance is no excuse.

Worse, it shows callous disregard for the most basic of human instincts and rights.

We have certainly kept track of those we're shipping out to Iraq. It's a reprehensible joke to say we can't do the same on their return.

The first rule of the military, of any team for that matter, should be "We take care of our own."

Clearly we've broken that rule. It's ironic that when Iraqi citizens have been killed or wounded by mistakes made by our troops, our military is compensating the victims' families. Yet we've abandoned many of our own.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has already removed or accepted resignations from some of the offenders.

But this has to go beyond finding an easy scapegoat, then going back to business as usual. He let them off easy. A more fitting duty would be to have issued them mops and bedpans to clean up the mess they created, while begging forgiveness from every brave man and woman who deserved better from us.

Lee Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and regional advertising director for Morris Communications Alaska, including the Juneau Empire. Email him at