On Thanksgiving Day, 2005, the soldier on our cover this week—Specialist Marissa Strock—was the gunner on a patrol in Iraq. Suddenly, four 1.55 artillery rounds from an improvised explosive device ripped through her Humvee, killing two of her fellow soldiers, Steven Reynolds and Marc Delgado, and leaving her in a coma. "We were headed out to a body report, to recover a body that had been sighted, and we drove over the IED," she recalled to NEWSWEEK's Jamie Reno. "Two insurgents were apparently in the brush, just waiting. They had buried an IED in the middle of the road weeks before, and when we drove over it, they blew it. No one saw anything; it just happened so fast."
For Strock and many other veterans, the furious pace of combat is giving way to the slow anguish of recovery within a broken system of care at home. On the morning she came out of amputation surgery, Strock was suffering, but was denied her pain medications because of what Strock says was an inattentive nurse. "They really need to make some changes to take better care of us when we come home," she says.
The nation that President Bush has dedicated to the cause of ending tyranny around the world is failing to fulfill its obligations to the wounded among us. Whether the issue is physical or psychological, veterans like Strock feel abandoned and angry, and the lack of consistently strong care appears to be the result of an all-too-familiar phenomenon: poor planning.
Written by Dan Ephron and Sarah Childress with reporting from Jamie, Eve Conant, John Barry, Karen Springen, Jonathan Mummolo and Ty Brickhouse, andaccompanied by photographs by Ethan Hill, our piece indicates that the VA system is unprepared for the scope and the complexity of the task at hand and ahead. Fifty thousand Americans have been injured in body or mind thus far, and the numbers will surely rise. No bureaucracy is perfect, and all human institutions make mistakes. But to fall short on taking care of the wounded is more than a mechanical failure. It is a moral lapse.
The obligation does not lie only with the government. We can contribute to charities such as the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, the Armed Services YMCA or Fisher House (there is a box to the right on these organizations). And politically, there is no excuse for our not demanding that the government straighten itself out. We lobby effectively for things we want all the time, from entitlement programs to subsidies. Through concerted pressure, Americans stigmatized drunk driving and smoking, forcing legislative and cultural change. Surely the cause of wounded veterans more than merits at least as much attention.
When President Bush is sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, he can look up and see both a bust and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The next time the president gazes at one of those images, we may hope he recalls Lincoln's Second Inaugural. "With malice toward none, with charity for all ... " Lincoln said on that March day in 1865, "let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ... " To care for him who shall have borne the battle: in a sacred American text, a clear articulation of a sacred American duty. The words may seem to belong to a distant past, but the mission they describe remains urgent, and essential.