John McCain sure never seems to waste an opportunity to talk about of his time as a POW. In the first presidential debate against Barack Obama, he insisted veterans know he "loves them" and that he will "take care of them." McCain even went so far as to say that programs caring for veterans and defense spending were among the only things to be spared from his "spending freeze" if elected our next president.
But the truth is John McCain voted against an amendment to add $400 million for veteran's inpatient and outpatient care. Not only that, as a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, McCain was asked point blank about the Walter Reed scandal more than a year ago.
He responded saying that he took, "responsibility for being a member of the Armed Services Committee and not knowing about it and not doing anything about it."
So -- in all his infinite concern for our troops and their families -- just what has John McCain since done to rectify the situation at Walter Reed? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
How do I know? Well, as military dependents, my own children were required to begin receiving care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center once we moved within its vicinity in 2006. My young son has battled cancer since he was two years-old and has been to many hospitals. But I wasn't prepared for the conditions at Walter Reed when we arrived.
I expressed my concern but was assured that it was required my son be seen at a military treatment facility, or procedures would not be covered by our military insurance plan. So, intimidated, we pressed on.
I found that most of the doctors and nurses at Walter Reed tried their best. I often saw them embarrassed at the meager resources available to them. Cracking paint and dilapidated furniture were common in the ward we frequently visited. When the tiny oncology treatment room was too overcrowded parents had to sit in the hallway, next to dusty old surplus furniture stored there. Many families, like ours, had to visit this clinic at least weekly for about six hours at a time.
Our situation worsened when the Walter Reed radiology department accidentally deleted a major part of my son's quarterly MRI. The doctors monitoring his tenuous situation had no way of telling whether his spinal cord tumor was spreading or stable. Of course no one ever mentioned this accident to me or ordered another scan to be done; I found it myself by keeping my own copies of his records at home. By the time a children's hospital caught the spread months later, there were tumors covering his entire brain.
Though I repeatedly requested it, the powers that be would not allow me to take my son to a children's hospital for the much more intense chemotherapy he now needed to combat the spreading cancer. As long as we lived near a military treatment facility, they said, his care had to be conducted there. As weeks passed, his general health deteriorated so much that he could no longer even attend school, his skin grayed and he sat limp most of the day. It became clear that staying at Walter Reed was the same as giving my son a death sentence.
Early this year I decided to pick up everything and move to Chicago, determined to get him the care he needed. Within weeks, my son's situation began changing. The comprehensive care he's now being provided includes a robust Child Life Department to ease the discomfort of troubling procedures, something unheard of at Walter Reed. And with chemotherapy his cancer is now shrinking instead of spreading. His hair has grown back, his personality returned, and he goes to school every day. He's got a new lease on life.
So while John McCain talks a good game about military families and his concern for Walter Reed, it says a bit more that he's opted to have his own care conducted at Bethesda Naval Medical Center and by a private personal physician at the Mayo Clinic -- something that troops and family members with less clout and cash aren't able to do.
We've heard quite a lot about McCain's service to our country and grueling experience in Vietnam. For that, he's an American hero. But acting heroically decades ago, and being the right person to lead our nation in a new direction today are two different things.
But maybe we can assume that -- as a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee -- once McCain sees the photos of an ongoing crisis at Walter Reed below, he will immediately suspend his campaign and go to Washington to rescue his fellow veterans and their families.
Walter Reed's Pediatric Oncology reception desk.
The Pediatric Oncology communal treatment room.
The Pediatric Oncology communal treatment room (alternate view).
A bed for kids too sick to sit-up in the communal treatment room (hopefully two of them aren't too sick on any given day).
The Pediatric Oncology nurse's station.
Hallway/waiting room clutter.