Behind the door of Army Spc. Jeremy Duncan’s room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carryout. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.
The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely — a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients.
The exposure of the deep and widespread problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center by The Washington Post drew immediate attention. A day after the first series appeared, the Army began cleaning up the substandard housing at Walter Reed. Within weeks, the commander at Walter Reed, the secretary of the Army and the surgeon general of the Army were removed from their jobs. A high-level commission was appointed to look into the care of veterans.
“What started out as a series about a 160-acre campus in Washington has radiated across the country,” Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said. “The volume of e-mails and telephone messages from around the world have overwhelmed (reporters Anna) Hull’s and (Dana) Priest’s in-boxes. … The trust that they earned from the physically and psychologically wounded provided rich texture and poignant detail for their stories.”
Judges said this was “a perfect story: It serves the D.C. readership because the hospital’s in D.C., it has national implications, and it required an incredible amount of work to pull off … lots of access issues, lots of reporting and great story-telling.”