As the spouse of a military service member who served in Iraq and having frequently visited our wounded at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center here in Germany, I am profoundly aware of the depth, tone, and gravity of the wounds our servicemembers endure. I am also aware of the often fragmented and disconnected care they receive once stateside.
Tom Toles’ Jan. 29 editorial cartoon in the Washington Post depicting a service member with both arms and legs missing has been labeled “beyond tasteless” and “a disservice” by six military Generals. It may be tasteless but the only disservice has come from a nation of citizens that has thus far refused to hold its administration accountable for the single most overlooked reality of this war: not all of our wounded are getting all of the care they need. That Rumsfeld was depicted as the doctor saying, “I’m listing your condition as ‘battle hardened'” is a glaring and accurate reflection of his and his administration’s lack of regard for the needs of our wounded. Many citizens, under the guise of supporting our President and being patriotic, have unquestionably assumed that same regard.
Wounded Marine Gunnery Sergeant (Master Sergeant Select) Kenneth Sargent and his spouse Tonia have navigated the precarious stateside path of his care since his injury in Iraq in August of 2004 from Landstuhl, Germany to Bethesda, MD to MCB Camp Pendleton, CA. In a few days, they will again travel the 443 miles to Palo Alto for services and care not provided by facilities closer to their home. With 19 years time in service come this April 29th, the Gunny’s retirement at 20 years is still not guaranteed, and thus the care and rehabilitation he needs and has earned is in jeopardy. The road he and Tonia have taken since his injury has been marred with obstacles that include but is by no means limited to a lack of communication between services that have created disconnections in care.
The Gunny is not an anomaly. He is part of an unfortunate norm. He is not a cartoon. He is a real person.
Those servicemembers who do make it to retirement are still subject to substantially higher insurance costs, a lowered priority in military medical facilities, and extensive waits for limited VA services. Meanwhile, expenses for travel, daycare, lodging, and transportation as well as the loss of a second income and the sheer expense of “normal” day-to-day living compromises the lives, livelihoods, and financial stability of our wounded and their families. None of this has been called “a disservice” nor has any of it been described as “tasteless,” “calloused,” or “reprehensible.”
It may be easier to target an editorial cartoonist than those who created the reality he illustrates, but it does nothing to abate the reality.
Generals Pace, Giambastiani, Hagee, Schoomaker, Mullen, and Moseley have more than the right to take issue with any disrespectful regard for our wounded. Combined they have over 200 years of military service and battlefield experience. They are not the untouched, un-traveled, and inexperienced Washington-based elected whose knowledge of Kabul, Tikrit, or Landstuhl is limited to pins on a map. The very bravery and sacrifice the Generals’ rightly attribute our wounded has this military spouse wondering why their disdain is so misdirected. Was Toles’ cartoon “tasteless,” gentlemen? Or did it just leave a bad taste in the mouths of some with whom you work? You know of whom I speak. They could but haven’t made sure the funding and programs are in place to provide for the full care and rehabilitation of every wounded service member. They’ve toured Bethesda on the backs of aides that made sure they didn’t see any wound as bad as the one in the cartoon. Many of them haven’t been to any other hospitals because those facilities aren’t sitting in their backyard.[ADBLOCKHERE]
Sure, some of them have come here to Germany to conduct all manner of business but few of them make it out of the pubs and castles long enough to get to Landstuhl. I’ve frequently witnessed those who have managed a visit still find a way to avoid facial disfigurations, overwhelmed and distraught patients, and the ICU. The limits of what they can stomach is reflected in the limits of that which they have gone on to write, promote, and provide for in legislation. Touring the field hospitals of Iraq and Afghanistan has not prompted Bush or Rumsfeld to do much more than make sure the war itself has its money. This they can do, but they have yet to make sure the care and rehabilitation of every wounded service member and regard for their time in service has been provided for in full.
Toles’ illustration did indeed reflect a villainous disrespect for our wounded. That disrespect was born of and continues to grow from an administration that sent its military into war knowing full well the system of care for its wounded was desperately wanting and has allowed it to remain that way to this day. The administration has seen fit to delegate the task of filling in the gaps to private citizens, non-profit organizations, and the wounded and their families. Reveling in efforts it has not funded and supports only with lip-service, the administration continues to use hyper-patriotic language to cover its neglectful regard for the very citizens it has needed most. There is nothing more “callous” about Toles’ depiction save what can be seen in the bathroom mirrors of Rumsfeld and Bush.
Toles’ cartoon is going to upset many a citizen, especially the families of those currently at war. I’d be surprised if very many families of those fully employed with securing care for their wounded loved one has had time to open a paper, much less get to the sixth page of the second section. While many papers headline the success stories of hundreds of wounded, thousands more and their unsuccessful stories don’t quite make the cut. This has created a slanted and skewed reality for those who go no further than the front page. The stories of those most in need are rarely told and they are only seen behind “disturbing image” warnings around the Internet. This may make it more palatable for legislators and the population at large to sleep at night, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to insure the full care and rehabilitation of every wounded service member.
If it takes a tasteless cartoon to shake the populace hard enough and wake them up so they’ll see what is real, then so be it. Unfortunately Generals, your disappointment isn’t shared with as many Americans as you might have hoped. If outrage over a real wounded service member hasn’t prompted improvement, do you really think outrage over a cartoon image of the same will? The administration that sends our servicemembers into war has had ample opportunity to press for and pass legislation providing for our wounded in full, and it has not.
That is where the disdain need be directed.