Field Hearing at Walter Reed:SSG John Daniel Shannon's Testimony

March 5, 2007
Blog
SSG John Daniel ShannonSSG John Daniel Shannon testified this morning before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, National Security Subcommittee, at a field hearing at Walter Reed. SSG Shannon's experience was highlighted in the Washington Post reports on the deplorable conditions in Walter Reed's outpatient facility (also see this slide show from washingtonpost.com). He concluded his prepared opening statement (pdf) with these words:

My wife constantly reminds me that I have benefits I've earned. Left to myself, I don't really care most of the time. My professional ethics as a Sergeant are: "My soldiers will always come before myself"; "confirm, deny, and never lie"; "no excuses, mission first"; and "no one is more professional than I." These ethics have dictated my growth, over the years, into a leader of personnel who truly believes in self-sacrifice. In fact, these very ethics guided my decision-making process on the day I was wounded, while making sure one of my men was not. Finally, these ethics lead me to seek help for a broken system in the only way I believe remains.

The command keeps talking to us about using the "open door policy." The open door policy is a system implemented by military leadership at all levels that allows soldiers to raise their concerns about any given situation. If that soldier's concerns are not satisfactorily met by a leader, that soldier can take those concerns to the next level of authority and continue this process until their concerns are addressed. I understand this policy and agree with its intention. However, during the time I've been here, I've seen the chain-of-concern passing our needs and concerns up the chain frequently. When changes are not made, the open door policy ultimately becomes a tool for leaders to squash problems and keep them in-house. Now, once this situation has been made public, the "powers that be" see fit to relieve some people of duty who are doing the best they can with what they've been given.

This is an obvious example of a broken system trying to survive when what it really needs is to be fixed. I lost the ability to trust the system and sought an open door that would bring public attention to the problems here. Things are now getting done. Some of the lower leaders at Walter Reed have paid a price--possibly with their very careers--as action is taken by higher levels of authority to show they are "fixing" the problem while, at the same time, trying to save themselves from accountability for their dereliction of duty. I believe that is an indicator of how the situation was handled in the past. And I quote, "There's not a problem until the wrong people have a problem with it." And, finally, sometimes the wrong people are made to pay the price for someone else's mistakes.

Thank you again for allowing me to the opportunity to share my experience at Walter Reed with this Committee.

Early press reports out of today's hearing include parts of SSG Shannon's testimony during questioning:

From the Associated Press:

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, who lost his left eye and suffered traumatic brain injuries from a rifle wound, said that after he was discharged from Walter Reed, he was given a map of the grounds and eventually found his way to outpatient quarters by wandering around and asking for directions.

Then, he says, he "sat in my room for a couple of weeks wondering when someone would contact" him about continuing treatment.

"My biggest concern is having young men and women who have had their lives shattered in service to their country ... get taken care of," Shannon said.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Soldiers and their families testified today that the veterans were denied adequate care, forced to live in squalid conditions and dismissed as troublemakers when they complained.

"When I have to show my Purple Heart to get my uniform, you know it's bad," said Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon. Waiting for the plastic surgery that would allow him to wear a prosthetic eye, Shannon said he was angry that Army Secretary Frances Harvey was allowed to resign.

"In a war," Shannon said, "you don't resign in the middle of a war, you continue to fight for us and admit mistakes and work to fix mistakes until you're fired."

The prepared opening remarks from several other witnesses, including Annette L. McLeod (pdf), wife of Cpl. Wendell "Dell" McLeod, are already available from the the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. There will be further coverage of these witnesses and their testimony throughout the day.