The Pentagon should issue a surgeon general-style warning to would-be whistleblowers that reads: Exposing negligence in military medicine can be dangerous to your health.
A tightly circulated report from the Pentagon's own Inspector General's office confirms some of the findings we have been warning of for a year regarding retaliation and improprieties among U.S. Army medical installations in Germany. Several military doctors there argued that they were being treated like second-class citizens who enjoy few rights or legal recourses to protect themselves against abuses. Now investigators are concluding, belatedly, that some of these problems are systemic throughout the Army Medical Corps.In a move evocative of the KGB, some military officials have forced perfectly sane doctors to undergo psychiatric treatment for simply complaining about their working conditions. Our associate, Dean Boyd, learned of one Air Force doctor forced to spend nine weeks in a psychiatric ward after raising his voice over what he felt was negligent patient care.
Many of the problems seem to trace back to commanders who believe that hospitals can be run like boot camps and doctors treated like Gomer Pyle. It not only victimizes doctors and affects patient care but is ultimately yet another cost passed on to the taxpayer. The Pentagon spends millions putting people through medical school so U.S. military hospitals can be staffed by competent physicians. But in alarming numbers the best and the brightest are bailing out of the service as soon as their obligatory stint is finished.
If the Pentagon's response to this crisis could be named it should be called Operation Foot-Dragging. More than two years ago, several senators and members of Congress got so exasperated with the growing horror stories they demanded an investigation. Only recently has the Pentagon's Inspector General informed Congress that it had identified what it gingerly refers to as "problem areas" in the Army Medical Corps. The details are largely deleted from any public disclosures. Doctors are under fire on other fronts as well, according to the inspector general report. Malpractice suits can be fatal to a doctor's reputation and career.
In other cases, the inspector general found that some Army hospitals "placed adverse information in physician's credentials" in response to minor infractions "unrelated to the practice of medicine." When those doctors go hunting for jobs in the civilian world, these false blemishes become bars to employment. "Nothing will do more to discourage physicians from careers in the federal government than the perception that their professional reputations can be illegally manipulated by fellow officers," one military source argued.
If these warnings remain unheeded, Pentagon war-planners should start contemplating the prospect of fighting a war without competent doctors treating wounded soldiers.