According to the Washington Post, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation’s capital has treated one out of every four soldiers injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 700 outpatients reside on the hospital grounds or nearby as they receive continued treatment or await bureaucratic decisions – which can take 18 months or longer. They outnumber in-hospital patients by 17 to 1.

In a two-part series, reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull have done a great service in rendering a portrait of the sad and horrifying state of “supporting the troops” when they come home to Walter Reed.

These soldiers suffer from amputations, brain injuries, post traumatic stress, and other life-changing combat wounds. They are housed in rooms with “mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses,” as well as rotting floors and black mold. “Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are [also] part of the narrative here.”

Soldiers with “brain injuries sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from the staff to arrange them. Many disappeared even longer. Some simply left for home.”

“If Iraq don’t kill you, Walter Reed will,” said one soldier’s wife.

Meanwhile, the army haggles with these servicemen and women over disability ratings in order to avoid paying benefits. (“They were fit enough for war, but now they are facing teams of Army doctors scrutinizing their injuries for signs of preexisting conditions”). One soldier hit in the head by a steel cargo door of an 18-wheeler – knocked unconscious and cracking several vertebrae – is told that his intellectual and emotional difficulties are not a result of the head injury and therefore he isn’t entitled to disability. Only when a congressional staffer intervenes is further testing done and the diagnosis corrected. The same thing happens to another soldier with steel rods in his neck who can only turn his head by rotating his whole body.

The Mologne House– a 200-room hotel on the hospital grounds – has a full bar but “not one counselor or psychologist assigned there to assist soldiers and families in crisis – an idea proposed by Walter Reed social workers but rejected by the military command that runs the post.”

Records are lost, even patients’ identities as soldiers are challenged and they are forced to produce letters or photos to prove their service.

After 5 ½ years of combat, it is clear that real support and protection for our troops means safely bringing them home and fully funding their treatment – including mental health care.

The Bush administration, its GOP allies, and the neocons will play an ugly blame game, pushing the fallacy that those who use the power of the purse to end this war are endangering troops. They appear to be more interested in protecting their reputations, egos and legacies than in protecting troops who are refereeing a bloody civil war that they were never meant to be engaged in.

It is Congress’ constitutional right – and moral imperative – to use the power of the purse to end Bush’s bloody war and protect the troops from further loss and betrayal by this administration.

Postscript: The Washington Post now reports that as a result of its series Walter Reed and Army officials are taking steps to improve conditions at the hospital – including stationing social workers at Mologne House around the clock.