06/30/2010 02:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

McChrystal, Sympton not Cause; DoD Healthcare Debacle Continues

DoD Photo
McChrystal is a symptom and not a cause of the problems within the Department of Defense (DoD). For far too long, the folks at the Pentagon behaved as if they were a separate branch of government. The pooh bahs at the Pentagon are recognized as forces unto themselves with little or no accountability. The results show. The disdain with which McChrystal and his staff held every agency and everyone "not military" who disagreed with them is endemic in DoD.

We have been at war for nearly ten years with little change at DoD. The generals rotate and the top civilians rotate, but the faces and ideas somehow don't change. Are we satisfied with the performance of our military leadership? Amazingly after all these years there has been little shake up.

From the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq through the entire "stay the course" debacle, DoD military and civilians became accustomed to burying their failures, in some cases literally. The fury over Congressman Murtha's moment of courage speaking out against the tactics and strategy in Iraq pursued him to his grave. The Tillman Affair dishonored the honest death in war of a true hero in order to cover mistakes and to provide fodder to the DoD propaganda machine.

Many civilian and military leaders of our Department of Defense reflect a contempt for the Democratic process and America's citizens. The New Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda reflects this very same attitude. DoD and the Navy stubbornly continue to hamper both Congressional oversight and Congressional intent to develop a world-class medical center at Bethesda, Maryland.

The DoD response to Dr. Ken Kizer's Defense Health Board report to Congress is a classic example. Dr. Kizer's subcommittee identified major problems within the National Capital Region. DoD attempted to refute and "waffle" the report to Congress. Excellent sources indicate that Dr. Kizer's reappointment to the Defense Health Board is on the Secretary of Defense's desk for approval. Will that happen? Will quality and independence overrule group think and insularity? Let's wait and see.

One can only wonder what a civilian medical facility would have done with just the to date over 1.6 billion cost over run at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I am told you can build one heck of a world class medical facility from scratch for that amount. Yet this project is a debacle of growing magnitude actually reducing medical capability for our troops and their families. The Joint Task Force that was to finally gain the operational control to address the debacle at Bethesda in June still has not received it. No accountability exists.

Now, the director of the military's top center for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, is resigning. This is yet another DoD senior leadership major failure at a time when as Wired's Katie Drummond rightly puts it:

"No matter the reason for Sutton's departure, it's increasingly clear that troops -- whose suicide rate this year threatens to match war-zone fatalities -- need help."

While DoD leadership mumble about the 'sanctity of the BRAC process' and the Secretary of Defense pontificates that:

"Cuts in military health care spending: "Leaving aside the sacred obligation we have to America's wounded warriors, health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive," Gates said. He noted that the cost of providing military retirees' health care has risen from $19 billion a decade ago to $50 billion, even as many veterans with full-time civilian jobs are opting for the taxpayer-funded TRICARE program instead of getting insurance through their employers.
At a time when civilians are seeing their premiums and co-pays go up by double digits, all proposals for "modest increases" by the Pentagon have "been met with a furious response from the Congress and veterans groups" and have gone on to "routinely die an ignominious death on Capitol Hill," he said. He suggested that despite the "admirable sentiment" in protecting veterans from higher health care costs, they must foot a bigger share of the bill ..."

Mr. Gates, there can be no "Leaving aside the sacred obligation we have to America's wounded warriors...". All our military met their commitments and provided their service, many at great cost. You do not have the price of admission to say "they must foot a bigger share of the bill". You cannot say leaving aside... This is a debt due. You and the generals knew the bill was coming due. Pay it.

The generals and civilian leadership squandered our military resources in the Iraq sandbox year after year with hardly a peep. Now they attempt to repair the wear and tear on personnel and equipment on the backs of the very troops from whom they demanded and received so much. To say that promises to our soldiers and their families must be broken because the "brass" stayed silent and did not budget is typical. The troops and the leaders fighting the daily battles and giving their all on and off the battlefield are being slighted.

Now, the Navy appears completely unable to even feed all the patients at its present Bethesda facility, let alone the the new Walter Reed, and is reduced to begging for charity from Veteran Service organizations. Furthermore, DoD continues to "dump" patients onto the far more expensive TRICARE System while reducing less expensive and arguably more direct patient care through military healthcare facilities. Why? There is no accountability.

Will the Obama Administration address DoD military and civilian staleness and incompetence? The whole military environment smacks of what existed as the Vietnam Conflict wound down. Time to clean house and rebuild our military.

Why doesn't the Navy release their investigation of Congressman Murtha's unfortunate demise? By all accounts they are culpable. Surprised, neither am I.