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Military Healthcare Lacks Compassion, Say US Soldiers

Many a time, in many countries, those called up to risk their lives in the service of their nation// find themselves ignored and even ill-treated. Apparently the US is no exception.

Wounded soldiers and war veterans poured out their grievances during a hearing of the President’s Military Medical Care Panel at Washington on Saturday.

Speaking from experience, the soldiers and veterans described the military health care system as a labyrinth, said their families had been swamped with paperwork and complained that some care providers lacked compassion.

John Chiles, a retired colonel who was chief of anesthesiology at Walter Reed and chief of staff at the US Army hospital in Baghdad, said the military medical system was "underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed."

Jose Ramos, a hospital corpsman who lost his arm in combat in Iraq, said he received first-class care at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. But he said he had often been frustrated in seeking care at Walter Reed.

"It was rare that I ever saw the same doctor," Ramos reported. "I constantly had to re-explain my symptoms and medical history."

Moreover, Ramos said, the transition from Walter Reed to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was a struggle.

"Three different times I had to gather all my medical information and resubmit a package because three different times the VA managed to lose it," Ramos said. "Even after I was medically retired, the VA had no idea that I was an amputee."

In an interview, Ramos recalled how he informed his doctor at the VA that he had an artificial limb: "I knocked on my carbon-fiber arm and said, I'm missing an arm, buddy."

Or take the case of Staff Sgt. Christopher Edwards, who was severely burned in Iraq when a 500-pound bomb exploded under his vehicle.

His wife told the panel that after getting out of the intensive care unit at Brooke Army M edical Center in San Antonio, Edwards faced a new problem. “He was not receiving any mental health services and had fallen into a deep depression,” she said. “He felt that he would be stuck in the hospital forever. His pain was so intense that he would often ask me why we did not let him die in the first place.”

Following media reports over shabby treatment of soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, an independent panel had charged that money woes and neglect at the highest level were to blame for the sorry conditions at the hospital.

Pentagon, the US defence headquarters, was ill-prepared to deal with growing numbers of troops suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, it said.

The report also faulted the Army’s complex disability ratings which, critics contend, are manipulated to limit disability compensation to wounded soldiers.

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