Army shouldn’t close ranks around Madigan inquiry

The News TribuneFebruary 13, 2013 

It’s hard to beat the U.S. Army when it comes to giving the bureaucratic run-around.

The Army has been blocking News Tribune staffers who have tried to ferret out information about problems at Madigan Army Medical Center, where soldiers apparently had been misdiagnosed during medical disability reviews for combat-related conditions. Even Freedom of Information Act requests have gotten little traction, with the requests lagging for months before being rejected for one reason or another, or being answered incompletely.

Most recently, military reporter Adam Ashton sought information about findings made by the Army Behavioral Task Force, which conducted an Army-wide investigation after the reports of problems at Madigan. At a press conference last week, Army Secretary John McHugh announced that the task force generated 24 findings and 47 recommendations, but he couldn’t share any of them. That might happen at some future, unspecified date.

That’s not good enough. Soldiers who were misdiagnosed, their families and the public deserve to know what went wrong and what steps the Army is taking to prevent it from happening again. If there’s a good reason for keeping that information secret, what is it? One given – that disclosure might discourage future openness – doesn’t cut it.

This seems all too similar to the way the Army handled the investigation in 2010 after members of the Oregon National Guard complained about their treatment at Madigan.

When Ashton filed an FOIA request for documents pertaining to that investigation, what he received was almost entirely redacted. The reason given: a “quality assurance” exemption. And the Army would not allow the Madigan commander to discuss changes made to address the Oregon guard soldiers’ complaints.

A cynic might be tempted to wonder whether Army officials are just hoping reporters eventually will lose interest in the investigations and move on.

Sen. Patty Murray has been watching the problems at Madigan. We hope she can persuade the Army to be more transparent with its investigations and more forthcoming with its findings.

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