|For Immediate Release: March 24th, 2005|
Women’s Vigil Outside Walter Reed Medical Center Starts Friday, March 25, 9 P.M.
“Since 9/11, the Pentagon's Transportation Command has medevaced 24,772 patients from battlefields, mostly from Iraq. But two years after the invasion of Iraq, images of wounded troops arriving in the United States are almost as hard to find as pictures of caskets from Dover. That's because all the transport is done literally in the dark, and in most cases, photos are banned…. Nearly 4,000 soldiers hurt in Iraq have been bused from Andrews Air Force Base to Walter Reed, according to the hospital. Because the planes come in late at Andrews, patients arrive at Walter Reed after dark and after the hospital's clinics are closed. The wounded are unloaded into hallways empty of the patients, families and media who typically are present during the day.” Mark Benjamin, Salon.com March 8, 2005. Women seek to shed light on U.S. war casualties as they are taken from the FRONT LINE to the BACK DOOR.
When: Daily, Friday March 25-Friday, April 1, 9:00-11:00 P.M.
Late at night – Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays – gravely and seriously wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan arrive at Walter Reed, and Bethesda Naval Medical Center, for treatment – under the cover of darkness. These soldiers are the most seriously-wounded, with shattered limbs requiring prostheses and physical therapy, brain injuries and mental disorders. Soldiers are flown from US military hospitals in Germany – arriving at Andrews AFB and Walter Reed under the cover of night.
We believe the nighttime arrivals are scheduled on purpose so as to prevent the public from knowing about the numbers of soldiers wounded and the severity of their injuries. The “hiding” of the severely-wounded is in keeping administration policy of prohibiting photographs of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. (For investigative reporting of the Walter Reed arrivals, see Mark Benjamin's articles, “The Invisible Wounded,” at www.salon.com on March 8, 2005. For Benjamin's reporting on the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed, see “Behind the Walls of Ward 54,” at www.salon.com, Feb. 18, 2005.)
Even after their stealth arrival at Walter Reed, soldiers must begin a bureaucratic battle to obtain sufficient disability benefits to provide an adequate quality of life. Initial determinations of military pension amounts (10-20% of salary, for example), made by the Army's Medical Review Board, are often inadequate, and must be appealed to the Veterans Administration (which, to its credit, often increases the lifetime disability payment).
We also vigil to protest ongoing cuts in the Veterans Administration budget made by the very same administration that sends these soldiers to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, the FY05 budget institutes a new health care enrollment fee and increases prescription drug co-pays for middle-income veterans. The VA budget is not fully funded, failing by more than $2.6 billion to fully fund quality veterans' health care. Despite strongly lobbying by veterans organizations, the Bush administration fails to recognize veterans as an extension of the costs of war. Other FY05 budget cuts in educational, vocational and adult education, and family support programs also directly impact veterans and their families.
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