Friday, March 02, 2007

Which Kinda Cat ARE We Talking About, WRAMC?: The Rebuttal

Army denies patients face daily inspections

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writerPosted : Thursday Mar 1, 2007 14:02:05 EST

Army officials are denying that soldiers in the Medical Hold Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington will have daily early-morning wakeup calls and room inspections.

But one Building 18 soldier said he woke up Tuesday morning to the sounds of sergeants pounding on doors and yelling, “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”

“I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, I’m back in basic training,’” the soldier said.

The soldier said the outpatient soldiers at Building 18 were issued garbage cans and cleaning supplies and told to keep their rooms clean and organized because of all the officials who would be making their way through the building during the investigation next week.

Earlier in the week, soldiers in the unit said they had been told they would have to wake up at 6 a.m. and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

But Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Wednesday there will be no daily room inspections, and that standard formations would continue as before at 7:30 a.m. He also said there would be occasional health and safety inspections, but nothing “obtrusive.”

Soldiers also say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

Boyce said the brigade commander told 600 soldiers Monday afternoon that they should come to him if they have any problems, and that there would not be any retribution or reprisals for reporting problems.

Soldiers were also told they would be moving out of Building 18 to Building 14 within the next couple of weeks. Building 14 is a barracks that houses the administrative offices for the Medical Hold Unit and was renovated in 2006. It’s also located on the Walter Reed Campus, where reporters must be escorted by public affairs personnel. Building 18 is located just off campus and is easy to access.

Boyce confirmed that a move is being considered so Building 18 can be renovated.

The soldiers said they were also told their first sergeant had been relieved of duty, and that all of their platoon sergeants have been moved to other positions at Walter Reed. And 120 permanent-duty soldiers are expected to arrive by mid-March to take control of the Medical Hold Unit, the soldiers said.

Boyce said some personnel actions have been taken but could not confirm them Wednesday.

Boyce said the soldiers may speak to the media, but only with permission if the interview takes place in a government building, such as Building 18. However, he said, if soldiers at Walter Reed want to talk with reporters down the street at a coffee shop, “that would be fine.”

Boyce also responded to a gag order issued to military spokespeople after extensive media reports on the problems facing troops in the Medical Hold Unit with both the medical evaluation bureaucracy and their living conditions.

In a message Tuesday, the Pentagon clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending queries for interviews and filming by CNN, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople titled “Media inquiries related to Walter Reed”: “It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place,” referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed.

Boyce, however, said he will continue to work with CNN and will continue to set up interviews on an individual basis for other interested reporters.

The order not to “engage the media” sparked discussion on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., issued a press release in which she said “any attempt to silence the very soldiers who brought their own mistreatment to light, or to hide ongoing abuses from the public eye — if such attempts are occurring — would be morally reprehensible. It would be an abdication of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our government: the protection of those who have fought to protect us.”

At a Senate defense appropriations subcommittee hearing, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, asked for an explanation about the order not to speak to the media after reading reports on the problems at Walter Reed in the Military Times newspapers.

“That’s not our standard, to tell people to keep quiet,” said Adm. Edmund Giambastiani Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “If they’ve got problems, we want to hear about them.”

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