WASHINGTON – Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee shook their heads in amazement as Annette McLeod testified tearfully that she didn’t know her husband had been hurt in Iraq “until he called me himself from a hospital in New Jersey.”
Lawmakers on the committee were visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a hearing Monday in which they took testimony from soldiers and family members as well as hospital officials on the squalid conditions and administrative obstacles faced by outpatients at Walter Reed.
Annette McLeod’s ordeal with her wounded soldier-husband, Dell, was one of those chronicled in a Washington Post series last month about Walter Reed.
McLeod, whose husband suffered a brain injury near the Iraqi border, described for the committee her frustration at getting help from the chain of command at Walter Reed.
She scoffed at suggestions that higher-ups did not know of the problems. “I have one question: Were they deaf?” she said. “Because I worked the chain. I went anywhere they would listen. So if you don’t want to hear it, you don’t want to hear it.”
House panel members also reacted with astonishment when another Walter Reed patient profiled by The Post, Sgt. John Shannon, spoke about how, while recovering from being shot in the head in Iraq, he was left “extremely disoriented” to wander the Walter Reed campus alone in search of an outpatient facility.
Shannon was shot in the head during a firefight near Ramadi in November 2004 and has languished at Walter Reed ever since, awaiting plastic surgery so he can be fitted with a prosthetic left eye, while paperwork for his retirement from the Army has been on hold.
But his ire Monday was less about his own treatment than about the sense of betrayal he feels for the younger, wounded soldiers he has tried to shepherd through the bureaucracy at Walter Reed.
“I will not see young men and women who have had their lives shattered in service to their country receive anything less than dignity and respect,” said Shannon, who at times said he was having difficulty controlling his anger.
He said some injured troops encounter so much bureaucracy that they give up and forgo benefits to which they are entitled. “I have seen so many soldiers get so frustrated with the process that they will sign anything presented to them just so they can get on with their lives,” he said.
The third member of the panel, Spc. Jeremy Duncan, who had two black studs where his left ear used to be, described the “unforgivable” squalor of his room at Walter Reed.
Duncan, injured in a roadside bomb in Iraq, lost sight in one eye, suffered a fractured neck and almost lost his left arm. He was housed in now-infamous Building 18.
“It wasn’t fit for anybody to live in a room like that,” he said, describing holes in the wall and black mold.
Duncan said that despite repeated reports and complaints, nothing ever got fixed. “That’s when I contacted The Washington Post,” he said. After the newspaper reported the squalid conditions, “I was immediately moved from that room, and the next day they were renovating the room.”