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Army vet at Walter Reed: 'I want to leave this place'
Michael Roston
Published: Monday March 5, 2007
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With a US Army veteran declaring "I want to leave this place," a House committee began a hearing this morning at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the difficulties that casualties from the Iraq war have experienced in receiving medical care.

In the special hearing's first panel, two veterans and the wife of a third alleged that senior Army officials failed to heed the warnings that they had heard for years about the state of care at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center. The committee's chair, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), suggested that the problems at the Army Medical Center might be "the tip of the iceberg."

In the first of two major hearings today on the subject, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took up the problematic medical care and housing conditions at Walter Reed. The first panel of the hearing consisted of the sworn testimony of two veterans and the wife of a third, whose experiences at Walter Reed had earlier been featured in the Washington Post's articles.

US Army Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon suffered injuries from an explosion in Iraq. He testified before the committee that he had experienced difficulties for two years in receiving certification that would enable plastic surgery he needs to be fitted for a prosthetic eye.

He told the committee that he's had enough of the complications of receiving medical care at the Army hospital.

"I want to leave this place," Shannon said.

He then explained that the patients' advocates at Walter Reed don't put the care of veterans up front in the help they provide.

"We have no advocacy that is not working for the government," he explained. "They have its interests, not mine, in mind."

(Shannon's prepared testimony can be accessed at the House Oversight Committee website.)

Annette McLeod, the wife of Corporal Dell McLeod, an injured Army National Guard veteran, shared similar experiences and questioned the idea that the Army's senior leadership didn't know what was happening at Walter Reed prior to the articles written by Dana Priest and Anne Hull in the Post.

"I have one question: Were they deaf?" she asked. She then added tersely, "You don't want to hear, you won't hear."

(McLeod's prepared statement can also be accessed at the Oversight Committee website)

Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who told the Washington Post his story of horrendous conditions at Walter Reed for outpatients living on site, agreed with McLeod.

"There's no way they couldn't know," he added.

Their remarks followed a question from Rep. Waxman, who had said he "can't understand" how top senior officials could say they were surprised by the situation at Walter Reed. The California Democrat then pointed to a wide variety of news reports and government investigations in recent years that preceded the Post's articles.

Waxman said he feared that the situation at Walter Reed was "the tip of the iceberg" in terms of problems with medical care.

From all over the country, he said, veterans seeking medical care were "flooding us with complaints."

The committee's ranking Republican member, Tom Davis of Virginia, agreed that the problems at Walter Reed were severe.

He criticized the Army for inflicting "financial friendly fire on those returning from war" and said that at Walter Reed, the system "treats soldiers like inconveniences rather than heroes."

The testimony of the two veterans and Mrs. McLeod made up the first of three panels. The next two will hear from current and former Army officials at the Pentagon and in Walter Reed.

Additionally, three top Army officials will testify later today before the House Committee on Appropriations on the situation at Walter Reed.