WALTER REED CLOSES | Globe Editorial

History, not just a scandal

July 27, 2011

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AS THE Walter Reed Army Medical Center prepares to shut down, the storied institution should be remembered for its long, honorable history, and not just for its recent woes. The hospital has treated hundreds of thousands of the nation’s warriors since before World War I. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Douglas MacArthur died there. Bob Hope and Tom Brady alike have greeted service members from their generation’s wars there.

Still, an aging hospital like Walter Reed simply cannot compete with leaner and more modern medical facilities. A closing ceremony this morning at the Army’s flagship hospital has been planned since 2005, when a federal government commission decided to consolidate medical services in an effort to save money.

The hospital’s most notorious days came two years later. In 2007, a Washington Post investigation found despicable living conditions in the outpatient ward known as Building 18. The series uncovered substandard medical facilities and a complex bureaucracy in the disability evaluation system that penalized returning troops. Several officials were fired. The Walter Reed scandal came to symbolize all that was wrong with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inability of the Pentagon to manage even the simplest of duties - taking care of our troops.

Soon enough, the District of Columbia will develop commercial and retail facilities on the Walter Reed property. A new start may be for the better. Walter Reed served many Americans very well, and it is unfortunate that its modern guardians tarnished a worthy reputation.