Guests: G. Virginia Fields, Artur Davis, Annette McLeod, Todd Bowers, Lynn Sweet, Howard Fineman, Jim Webb, John Tierney, David Dreier
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conditions in the room, in my mind were just - it was unforgivable for anybody to live - it wasn‘t fit for anybody to live in a room like that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is how we treat our soldiers. We give them nothing. But they‘re giving to us to go and sacrifice their lives. And we give them nothing.
We need to fix the system.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL.
For the past four years this has been a country divided by the war in Iraq. But even the most ardent critics stand in full support of the troops.
That‘s why Americans are furious about reports of wounded veterans returning home, the shameful neglect at Walter Reed and other military hospitals around the country.
In a moment, we‘ll talk to Senator Jim Webb, who was wounded in Vietnam himself and sits on the Armed Services Committee.
And Vice President Cheney gets treated for a blood clot in his leg.
His staff says he‘s fine, and he‘s already back to work.
But first, NBC News anchor, Brian Williams, who is in Iraq.
Brian, thank you for joining us from Iraq. Is this story about Walter Reed and the veterans hospitals reaching the troops?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”: It is, Chris. Today - and we can get to this perhaps in more depth a little bit later on - we went out to the always violent al-Anbar province to Ramadi and to the city of Hit.
And I was asked by, I guess, three or more soldiers, one commander, while we were standing around waiting for a briefing to come to an end, about Walter Reed. It is being talked about.
So much of the attention, as you know - and we‘ve been there many times - goes correctly to ward 57. The command number two, the man on the ground here in charge of the war effort, General Odierno, his son lost his left arm when an RPG hit his Humvee. He was treated at ward 57.
We talked about it today - world-class care there. Maybe that is why so many dropped the ball in the media and in Army upper echelons when it came to the outpatient treatment. And now, of course, as you noted, the spotlight turns to V.A. hospitals in general.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the effect its having. Is it clear that the people feel that we‘re letting them down at home? Or is that not evident yet?
WILLIAMS: I don‘t think it‘s that broad, no. I think - you know, when you walk into any command post here, today I walked into a relatively small outpost, to a case of Girl Scout cookies that had come in today from some folks back home. There were cases of clean socks from a group back home.
They, I think it is safe to say, feel very much loved. And some of these outposts, a little love goes a long way. I don‘t think this is seen as any kind of broader message.
I really do think this is a group of grownups entrusted with caring for them who, perhaps it is seen, have taken their eyes of the ball.
And now, stories like outsourcing are going to start getting some ink, and stories like downsizing and the potential closing of Walter Reed. That took away a lot of the impetus for some fine physicians to stay there on the job. And it took away the impetus to pour money into capital projects for improvement, if they knew they were just going to have to shut down.
MATTHEWS: Now I want to ask you the big question. How is the surge going in Baghdad?
WILLIAMS: Well, I‘ll tell you. It‘s in its early stages and with - if you mention the so-called surge, you have to talk about it in tandem with this new policy of these small outposts, these - what they are really is glorified police stations.
We saw it today in Ramadi. There is patently no way a few weeks ago we could have stood outside an armored vehicle and had a conversation as we did today in Ramadi.
They have changed policy there. The war has changed.
Is it better? That‘ll be for other people to judge. But it is already being felt here, that is, the increase in troops. The first ones are already here.
There‘s a huge field behind us they are clearing for the 3rd Infantry, for their next tour of duty here. And so, we‘ll have to wait and see. It‘s on a continuum.
But, again, the combination, with this change in policy - getting out, decentralizing, going into the neighborhoods, grabbing a toehold, telling the enemy we‘re here, start talking to the locals - that is having an obvious and palpable effect.
MATTHEWS: Do they - have you been there long enough, Brian, this time over, to sense whether it‘s different than the last time you were there?
WILLIAMS: Already there are some obvious differences in security in some spots. It doesn‘t take that long on the ground to instantly compare it to previous visits. So, yes.
We covered a lot of ground in one day. And when you travel with a three star and a Black Hawk, you can do that. We had a lot of heavy armor on the ground to facilitate our travels.
Still a very dangerous place. There are pockets of peace and serenity where the soldiers can go to relax, the contractors can do their jobs.
But yes, Chris, all of them revolving around the issue of security. There are some very obvious differences, starting with the arrival at the airport.
MATTHEWS: Has there been any cost to morale? And again, it‘s a hard one to get perhaps this quickly after a couple of days there, Brian.
But the British withdrawal of troops from Basra, are people feeling we‘re out there on point all alone as a country now?
WILLIAMS: I heard no talk of that, and that‘s all I can speak to.
Today, the message that we‘re prepared to report tonight on “NBC Nightly News” is this kind of tale of two wars.
I‘m fresh from, you know, weeks of putting together “NBC Nightly News” and televising this debate in Washington, a lot of members of Congress saying we should be out now.
And today, we literally airlift into a place like Ramadi, where they are so proud of the latest city block they say they have been able to “peacify.” They have been able to forge an agreement with the local religious leaders and knock al Qaeda one city block further away from the center of town.
They are so involved in the battle. Many, many soldiers told me today the local people are so worried they‘re going to leave cities like Ramadi and Hit. That‘s the war they know.
And they say very politely, they can talk all they want in D.C.; we‘ve got to enforce the policy, the job we‘re here to do.
MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you.
You‘re going to be reporting all this week on “Nightly News” from Iraq. Brian Williams of NBC News in Baghdad.
Brian will broadcast, as I said, every night this week from Baghdad where he is now.
Now to the outrage over the conditions facing wounded American troops back home when they get home.
Today, a House of Representatives panel went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to hear first hand about the substandard living conditions there.
Let‘s get a reaction now from Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan. He also fought and was wounded himself in Vietnam.
Welcome, Senator Webb. Your sense of how this investigation is going right now at Walter Reed.
SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VIRGINIA: We‘re having hearings in the Armed Services Committee tomorrow morning, and we‘re going to get an update at that time.
One thing that I‘m seeing, in terms of problem areas, is a distinction between how our soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors are being treated immediately after they are wounded, and what happens when we start processing them into the veterans‘ community. That‘s a real sense of concern that I have from being on the Armed Services Committee and also on the Veterans Committee here.
We‘ve got huge backlogs in terms of how we‘re able to transition these people, processing their disability claims. I think that‘s one of the things that happened with the Walter Reed situation in that outpatient area.
You‘ve got soldiers over there who are taking more than a year just to get their disability claims processed so they can get out.
And these are leadership questions. And it goes, in my view, to how this administration has been dealing with the people once they are leaving the military. It‘s, I know, the reason that I introduced this G.I. bill that I did when I first came in, to give these people the same kind of G.I. bill benefits that those coming back from World War II had versus what they have now.
So, the breaking point seems to be after they have been treated for wounds and this sort of thing and how we are processing them into the veterans‘ community.
MATTHEWS: Did you have that experience when you were wounded in Vietnam and you got first class treatment on the ground, and then in your operations to deal with your injuries, your wounds, but later you felt put aside and ignored in the convalescent period?
WEBB: Well, I think, in the Vietnam era, by the time that I was wounded the military hospital system had adjusted to the volume of the casualties. We had 360,000 casualties in Vietnam, killed and wounded combined.
But even during Vietnam, there was a breaking point between the military hospital system - which I grew up in, by the way, not simply when I was in the Marine Corps - and then transitioning into the V.A. system.
Right now, they‘re just - my point of concern - and I don‘t want to prejudge the hearings tomorrow - but my point of concern is the lack of attention, energy and leadership that‘s being given to helping these people when they have to move into the veterans system.
We‘ve got a 400,000 claim backup in the V.A. right now, just for basic disability claims and this sort of thing. And we‘re losing these people in terms of the attention that we give them as they begin to process out.
MATTHEWS: I was struck by the story of the serviceperson who had been forever wounded, will not be able to return to regular life again, will be in a V.A. hospital forever, as long as he lives, hearing people arguing about who gets to have to bathe him on a particular night and not wanting to do the job.
How do our people go from being patriots to being problems?
WEBB: Well, I read that story. And it tore my heart out, because I‘ve spent thousands of hours in my life working with veterans.
And one of the things I will say, my experience with the V.A. medical system and patient care system is that these are among the most dedicated people you‘ll ever meet in your life. But sometimes they get overwhelmed or sometimes you get a bad apple, and then you can have these sorts of problems.
But the question again is the overload right now in this transitional period. And we shouldn‘t have - for instance, we shouldn‘t have a wounded soldier waiting for a year to get his basic disability claim processed so that he can find out whether he‘s going to get out of the Army.
And those are failures of leadership. That should not be happening.
MATTHEWS: You‘re new to the job as U.S. senator from Virginia, senator. And, of course, Bob Gates is new to the job of Defense secretary.
You have clean brooms. Can you clean up this - no, I‘m serious. You know what I mean. You don‘t have to defend nothin‘. You‘re not there to play defense or explain the past or why things didn‘t work. You‘re new on the block.
Do you have enough swag - you and Gates and the others, the new guys - to fix this?
WEBB: Well, I think there‘s a couple of other things that Secretary Gates and I have in common. And one is that we‘ve been around a long time, in different versions of looking at these kinds of issues.
And the other is that, I know he came into government from a pretty comfortable job, and I decided to run for the Senate, because I was very, very concerned about where the country was heading.
And so, I think all of those things combine to, yes, being able to say that we‘re going to take a hard look at these issues. There‘s no reason to be up here if we can‘t.
And the question is making sure that we‘re being fair here. And I want to say that, because military medicine, per se, is very fine care. I‘ve had it all of my life. You know, it‘s no accident that when senior government people get sick and have diseases, and this sort of thing, they get treated over at Bethesda or in Walter Reed.
WEBB: The difficulty is leadership, taking care of these people, getting down and - the commander of that Walter Reed hospital should have been in that outpatient facility. I don‘t mean just one time. He should have been visiting that outpatient facility and making sure that his troops were taken care of.
And any time you have a troop filing a claim, you know, trying to get on with the rest of their lives and having it backed up like that, their commanders should be outraged.
And that‘s where I think we need to focus these hearings.
MATTHEWS: Have you been able to sniff out any effort to silence these soldiers?
WEBB: I have not seen that. I‘m not saying it didn‘t exist. I have just - I haven‘t even asked that question.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s coming up, because we‘re hearing the reports, going through all the paper I was looking at today, that there are people who have apparently made it clear that they were told by superior officers not to raise hell about a problem. Don‘t become a complainer or you‘ll be punished in some way.
WEBB: Well, inside a military bureaucracy, that is always a possibility. And if it has occurred, there out to be paybacks.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about how you got your medal. How did you get it?
WEBB: I‘m - it‘s not really something I want to talk about. Let‘s talk about Iran.
MATTHEWS: Well, OK, talking about Iran.
WEBB: I introduced a bill today.
MATTHEWS: I do want to know, because it‘s an amazing story what you did. You really were sort of a local theater Audie Murphy back then. We‘ll do it some other day when we have less to talk about.
Let‘s talk about Iran, because .
WEBB: I introduced a bill today .
MATTHEWS: . you talked about it today.
WEBB: Yes, I introduced a bill today, which would deny appropriations
for the president to take unilateral military action against Iran. The
only - this stuff (ph) should only happen with the consent of the Congress
absent those traditional areas such as self-defense, hot pursuit along border areas and intelligence activities, and that sort of thing.
I think it needs to happen. We need to start calming down what‘s going on over there in that region. And we need to sort of put a perimeter around the Iraq situation, get it solved and then move forward in a way that we can get our troops out of there and focus on other strategic issues.
MATTHEWS: The second, senator, that you get Hillary Rodham Clinton, your fellow member on that Armed Services Committee, to cosponsor that bill, would you call me? I‘m going to go on the air on MSNBC that second, because I want to hear when she agrees with you on this issue.
Because I wonder about the commitment some senators have made - including her and many others - to their constitutional responsibility to control war and peace issues.
WEBB: This is a very, very important issue. And I‘m hoping .
MATTHEWS: I would say.
WEBB: . this is - you know, this isn‘t a Democrat or a Republican issue. In fact, the lead sponsor in the House is Walter Jones, who is a Republican.
I hope that the people in the Senate and in the House will look at this as an issue of executive power versus legislative. It‘s a very important issue. And I laid it out as carefully as I could in my floor statement today.
MATTHEWS: I wish people would, instead of apologizing for mistakes would prevent - would stop making them.
Anyway, thank you very much, Senator Webb.
WEBB: Thank you. Good to be with you.
MATTHEWS: Jim Webb of Virginia.
Coming up, Congress asks questions about what went wrong at Walter Reed. We‘ll talk with Massachusetts Democrat, John Tierney, who held the hearings today, and California Republican, David Dreier, about what Congress can actually do to make it safe for men to come home with injuries and women to come home with injuries and get treated well by the people that they gave their lives, and in many cases their well-being, to serve.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Democratic Congressman John Tierney of Massachusetts chaired today‘s hearing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And California Congressman David Dreier is the ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee.
Congressman Tierney, this is a story, the treatment of our people, our soldiers who come back wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.
This story was broken by the “Washington Post.”
Why didn‘t the Congress break this story before the “Post” broke it?
REP. JOHN TIERNEY, D-MASSACHUSETTS: Well, you know, Chris, I hear from my colleagues who were on this committee in the last session - I was not, I was on leave of absence - that they actually did have some hearings on this issue.
And when they had witnesses in from the Army, they were assured that all of the matters that were brought up before them were being dealt with. Obviously, that turns out not to be the case.
MATTHEWS: Well, did you send people out to look at the way veterans were being treated in these situations, like building 18 at Walter Reed?
TIERNEY: I don‘t know whether they did or not. And as I say, I wasn‘t on the committee at that time. And Tommy Davis, who was chairing at that time, was pretty adamant today that they had tried to have the hearings, and that they had sent staffers out there and, in fact, had dealt, according to him, with individuals trying to get them serviced and trying to make sure that they had it.
So, it was an issue that came up before Congress last year.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, Congressman Dreier? Is this something where the Congress had to pushed along by the “Washington Post” to get the job done of oversight?
REP. DAVID DREIER, R-CALIFORNIA: Well, it demonstrates the importance of a free press. That‘s one thing.
Many investigations, as you know, Chris, which have ended up in Congress have started with reporting that has come forward.
There is bipartisan horror and outrage over this. We have an all-volunteer military. And Chairman Tierney knows very well that one of the most difficult - the most difficult - thing that we do is to talk to the families of those who‘ve lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, or anyplace in the world.
And as we try to encourage people to serve in our military, the thought of not providing them with adequate care, to see something like building 18 is just outrageous.
I‘ve visited wounded troops, as I know John has. And we need to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that we get to the bottom of it.
And I‘m very pleased that Secretary Gates stepped right up to bat.
MATTHEWS: He sure did.
DREIER: And we know that there‘ll be at least four, full investigations, and that‘s independent of Congress.
And so, absolutely. Congress needs to take action. We need to act just as Secretary Gates did, as swiftly as possible.
And I congratulate John Tierney and my colleague, Chris Shays, and others who were on that subcommittee, for pursuing this as quickly as Secretary Gates did.
TIERNEY: Well, thank you. And, Chris, I might just add, you know, the condition of building 18 was a factor in this. As horrible - and it should be taken care of - and I believe that will be one of the easier parts to take care of.
The deeper story here is the way people are treated once they‘re discharged from their medical treatment into the outpatient care. They don‘t have enough advocacy. There wasn‘t enough personnel there to deal with all of their intricate problems.
TIERNEY: And there just really was too confusing and complex a system, that really needed - has needed for some time - to be repaired. And that‘s a lack of leadership right up and down the line.
And we didn‘t get as many satisfactory answers as we wanted today, but we did get a direction to those people in the Army that they‘re to look at this issue. We‘re going to back in 30, 35, 40 days, and we‘re going to stay on them until this thing is done and done right.
DREIER: And Secretary Gates, Chris, called for four particular points, including accountability, along with this whole issue of making sure that our troops are given all of the information, whether it comes to job placement or other medical treatment, what can be done.
And I‘m convinced that we‘re going to be able to take care of this just as quickly as possible, because this is as urgent as anything else.
I was very encouraged by the report that you had from Ramadi from Brian Williams that he‘s going to be reporting on this evening, of some positive developments that are coming there.
We want to make sure, as President Bush said in his State of the Union message, that we win this war and that it‘s over as quickly as possible.
MATTHEWS: Congressmen, both of you, starting with Congressman Tierney, do you want to hear from people who are having problems, veterans and their families who aren‘t getting proper treatment? Do you want them to write to you?
Or how do they get - how do they ring the bell here?
TIERNEY: They‘re having no problem at all, Chris. Our phones were off the wall today and our Web site was up. And they can call the office here in Washington. But preferably, if they want to get their full story in, they can e-mail us onto our Web site or the committee Web site.
And we‘ve been hearing a lot of stories today so far, all the things that I mentioned. And the fact that we weren‘t prepared for this amount of serious disability and the amount that it‘s had, the continuation.
And we want to make sure, if the president does get his surge, that there is some foresight into what‘s going to happen and what impact that‘s going to have on the system, as well.
So, people should write in. We‘re happy to hear from them and we will follow up.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much for coming on the program tonight, Congressman Tierney and Dreier.
TIERNEY: You bet.
By the way, I have never said this before. If you have a person in your family who is a veteran, who is having problems getting proper treatment, you‘ve visited him or her and he‘s not - and they‘re not getting the right treatment, write your congressperson.
TIERNEY: Write to us.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not hard to do. Find out who your member of Congress is. Call up the Congress and ask, if you have to, in Washington, 202-225-3121, 225-3121.
Call them up and ask. Find out who your congressman is and get the job fixed. These are our patriots. They‘re not problems.
Up next, Barack Obama supporter and Alabama congressman, Artur Davis, and Hillary Clinton supporter, Virginia Fields, on Sunday‘s speeches in Selma.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The two top Democrats running for president and former President Bill Clinton paid tribute at an important civil rights anniversary Sunday in Selma, Alabama.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both gave speeches, then walked with activists, who 42 years ago were attacked by police during a peaceful voting rights march, known today as Bloody Sunday.
Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama invited Senator Obama to the gathering. And Virginia Fields, the civil rights activist who marched with Hillary on Sunday.
Good evening to both of you. Thank you for joining us.
Let me go - let me - Virginia, you didn‘t get to hear Senator Clinton‘s speech, so here‘s a piece of Hillary Clinton speaking in Selma yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, D-NEW YORK, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
And I want to begin by giving praise to the Almighty. “I don‘t feel no ways tired.”
“I come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy.”
I could have listened all afternoon. That pulse and the chair of all the mayors in the country, Mayor Palmer from Trenton, New Jersey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Thank you much.
Virginia, why was it important for Mrs. Clinton to come down there? I understood that Barack Obama had an invitation.
Why did Mrs. Clinton go down to Selma yesterday?
C. VIRGINIA FIELDS, FORMER MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Can you imagine what would have been said had she not been there?
She‘s running for president, and she‘s fully committed to issues of civil rights, and this is not a new thing for her.
And her being there I think was extremely important, because this is an important event in the life and the history of the civil rights movement.
So, she is a candidate for president. And to be at an event such as this, I thought was critically important.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Davis. What did you make of the battle yesterday? It was like the battle of the bands. They‘re both there. Both candidates, both frontrunners.
Barack Obama gave quite a speech.
By the way, how did he learn to talk like a Southern Baptist? The guy‘s got the cadence, the roll and everything. How did he learn to do that?
REP. ARTUR DAVIS, D-ALABAMA: Well, you know, Barack Obama‘s a great speaker. And when you come South, your drawl always comes out.
I thought it was a great day. I was very proud as a native son of Alabama. Selma happens to be in the heart of my district, and I had the honor of introducing Senator Obama at both of his talks yesterday. And I was also very proud as a Democrat.
Bill Clinton said something to the crowd at the very end yesterday. He said, this is going to be the rare election where we get to actually vote for someone instead of voting against someone.
That‘s how I feel about this field now. It‘s going to be the best field, in my opinion, since 1960. And I was glad to see my state at the epicenter of it yesterday for about five hours.
MATTHEWS: Mrs. Fields, let me ask you about the politics of this.
Both of these people are running for president of the United States.
Who do you think had the most effective performance before the people in Selma yesterday, and on international television?
FIELDS: I thought, too, it was a tremendous event. And while I was not at the church when Senator Clinton spoke, I have seen the clippings and talked to others, and everyone thought she did a phenomenal job because not only did she speak to her commitment to issues of Civil Rights and other concerns within the black community, but also what she has done, what she is doing now and the future.
So I thought that her speech was tremendous, and I thought she was very well received. I did march with her, and the cries and the shouts from the people who were there, Hillary, Hillary, wanting to take pictures, all showed tremendous admiration for her. So I thought it was a very important time to be there, and I‘m glad that she was there.
MATTHEWS: I‘m struck, Congressman, by the rapidity with which Barack Obama has introduced himself to America, especially African-America, if that‘s the right term, so quickly moving up in the polls, so quickly asserting his heritage, even though he has a mixed heritage, as an African-American. How did he do it so fast?
DAVIS: This is what‘s happened. I think. Three or four months ago, all the black community knew was that Senator Obama was popular and attractive. Over the last several months, he started to talk in detail about his passion for universal health insurance, his passion for universal college access. And what‘s happened is that the black community has realized he has a progressive agenda, and that‘s what resonates in the black community.
Now, the black community has a lot of experience with politicians over the last 15 (ph) years who became famous but who didn‘t have a progressive agenda.
MATTHEWS: Did they also had to get a look at him, to be blunt, to realize he is one of—he is...
DAVIS: Oh, they had to hear him. They had to hear...
MATTHEWS: ... he fits in the group.
DAVIS: Sure. Of course.
MATTHEWS: I mean, he‘s not some guy that claims to have been African-American or...
DAVIS: Look, Chris, even more important than that, they needed to hear him. They needed to hear him talking about a progressive set of values.
DAVIS: And they heard that yesterday in Selma. The enthusiasm for Barack Obama in Alabama is off the charts now, in the black and the progressive white community.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Mrs. Fields. Thank you for joining us, Mrs. Fields. Do you believe that Hillary Clinton can hold her own against Barack Obama in the black community?
FIELDS: I have worked with Hillary Clinton. I know of her commitment to the black community, as well as others, and this is not new for her. And I think at the end, people do want to know, Who is going to be the best person to move forward the agenda on universal health care, health care disparities, education, eliminating poverty? And Hillary Clinton has been fully committed and with real results in all of those areas.
That is part of why I have chosen to support Hillary, and I will be doing all that I can, including in my home state of Alabama, working for Mrs. Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Well, good for you. In fact, the Clinton campaign designated you as their spokesperson for tonight‘s program, and I appreciate them for doing that. And thank you. U.S. Congressman Artur Davis, and of course, Mrs. Fields.
Up next, more on the Walter Reed tragedy with retired general Barry McCaffrey, Marine sergeant Todd Bowers, spokesman for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Annette McLeod, whose husband was wounded in the war. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. More now on the substandard living conditions found at the Army‘s Walter Reed Medical Center. A Congress House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee held a hearing today on the issue. Let‘s go first to retired general Barry McCaffrey, who‘s an MSNBC military analyst. General McCaffrey, I trust you on all things. What is your view of this scandal?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, it‘s outrageous. And thanks to Dana Priest and “The Washington Post” for finally sort of pricking the bubble, so to speak. Chris, one caveat, though. And I say this as somebody who‘s got an entry (ph) soldier in combat right now. Military medicine, from the point of being wounded, the combat medics, the Black Hawk medevac pilots, the hospitals in Bagram airfield or in Baghdad, all the way back into Brooke (ph) Army Medical Center, Walter Reed and Bethesda, this is the best military medicine on the face of the earth.
The problem is threefold. First of all, Rumsfeld ordered the major military hospital closed right in the middle of a war -- 27,000 killed and wounded, and we‘re closing Walter Reed—and it dried up all the maintenance money. Secondly, we grossly underfunded Army medicine. And third, we have started a so-called civilianization program, which is going to evaporate 5,000 military positions and then compete on the labor market in places like Washington, D.C., to replace soldiers with contract hire.
This thing from the start was mismanaged. We‘ve got a war going on. If we had a war with North Korea and had to absorb 50,000 casualties in six months, this thing would go under. So Secretary Francis (SIC) getting fired—he should have been fired not for putting—making a momentary misjudgment but for sitting there and watching this go wrong for the last several years.
MATTHEWS: Do you get better treatment during outsourcing or by government employees, generally speaking?
MCCAFFREY: As a general statement, if you‘re badly wounded and you show up at Brooke Army Medical Center and you‘re being cared for by Army combat medics and Army docs and Army nurses, you‘re get the best medical care on the face of the earth.
Now, the problem comes when, you know, you get out of that traumatic injury surgical care phase and you get into this physical plant at Walter Reed, which is coming apart. Chris, there aren‘t even hot showers at Walter Reed frequently. One of the soldiers told the president that three years ago.
MCCAFFREY: So it‘s underfunded, undermanned and being civilianized, and it‘s starting to come apart.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey. Let‘s bring in Annette McLeod. She testified today that her husband, Corporal Wendell McLeod, was originally sent to the wrong hospital and later suffered delays in getting outpatient tests and treatment. And Sergeant Todd Bowers is a Marine who was shot in the face while in his second tour in Iraq. He‘s now the spokesperson for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Mrs. McLeod, thank you for joining us. What needs to be done, based upon your experience with your husband?
ANNETTE MCLEOD, WIFE OF INJURED SOLDIER: I think, first of all, when the soldiers come in, they need to fully screen them, not wait. They need to give them the care that they need. They need case managers to just come on and listen, instead of trying to dictate what the doctors say, because he had a case manager that actually denied him an MRI. She denied him.
MATTHEWS: She gave him an MRI?
MCLEOD: She actually denied him an MRI.
MATTHEWS: Didn‘t want to give him one.
MCLEOD: Right. The doctor ordered it.
MATTHEWS: Why? To save money?
MCLEOD: She said the Army didn‘t have the money and she didn‘t really think it was necessary.
MATTHEWS: And it was.
MCLEOD: If the doctor hadn‘t have thought so, he wouldn‘t have ordered it.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you mean she overruled the doctor for budgetary reasons?
MCLEOD: For a month-and-a-half. And I fought her and I fought her, and finally she decided to go ahead and do it.
MATTHEWS: Did she have an attitude or what? What were you coming across there?
MCLEOD: Her attitude was that she was tired of dealing with him. She
because I had gone home for a little while, while he was in the brain injury clinic, and she told me, she says, I cannot maintain him the way you want him maintained. She was tired of dealing with me, so she sent him home...
MCLEOD: ... to keep from having to deal with him.
MATTHEWS: When did a patriot become a problem? What happens? Why do they start treating people like problems when they served their country and suffered tremendous loss to themselves and their families? Why don‘t they treat people like that?
MCLEOD: I have no idea. But I know that whenever you hit close to the year mark at Walter Reed, they automatically start the board process, whether it‘s...
MATTHEWS: The start the what process?
MCLEOD: The medical board process.
MATTHEWS: Which means?
MCLEOD: It means if you‘re going up for retirement, if you‘re found unfit, then they send you to a medical board process to find out what your benefits are going to be and what kind of compensation they‘ll give you.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s—is it good time or a bad time?
MCLEOD: If you‘re not getting the treatment, it‘s a bad time.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever go to a U.S. congressperson or senator or anybody with some clout to get help?
MCLEOD: Yes. When they kept denying him treatment, Command Sergeant Lamorte (ph) saw me one day, and he was watching me as I cried. And he told me, he says, Call this number. He gave me the number to Miss Grace Washborn (ph), who works for Representative Tom Davis.
MATTHEWS: In Virginia.
MCLEOD: And they listened to my story and they done a congressional investigation. I knew...
MATTHEWS: So you got some action from Tom Davis.
MCLEOD: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: And is your husband getting better treatment now because of blowing the whistle?
MCLEOD: They retired him as of October. They have sat (ph) on some of his treatment. And whenever they done the congressional investigation, the colonel at the hospital called me into his office the next day to want to know what we could do to rectify the situation.
MATTHEWS: So you got action.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to you, Sergeant. What is the problem now with people—and I‘ll go back to my phrase, patriotic men—mostly, some women—come back from—with arms missing, legs missing, And they get good treatment medically. They get their amputation done correctly. Nobody‘s complaining about that yet. And then they get sent over to a ward or they get sent to outpatient care and everything comes apart and they‘re treated like a bureaucratic problem. What happens?
TODD BOWERS, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETS OF AMERICA: Well, what we‘re seeing here specifically with Walter Reed is that you have a systemic problem of whether we‘re going to privatize care, in this case, base maintenance, of Walter Reed.
MATTHEWS: Is that bad?
MATTHEWS: Why is it bad to take a job...
MATTHEWS: ... generally, conservatives believe that outsourcing to private enterprise works. You get more of a profit motive...
BOWERS: It very well could.
MATTHEWS: ... people—you know, it‘s sort of a—it‘s an effective system by nature. But you don‘t agree with that.
MCLEOD: Well, no, what I‘m saying is privatization may be beneficial. What we have here is six years of reviewing whether it should be privatized. And what‘s happened here is that the soldiers have been caught up in this six-year-long battle of what the right decision should be. It shouldn‘t take that long.
MATTHEWS: OK, who‘s taking care of guys when they come back—and women—they come back from Vietnam—I‘m sorry—Iraq or Afghanistan, and they‘ve got a leg or an arm missing, they‘re treated for a few months and then they‘re sent across the street or to some motel somewhere. Who‘s in charge of them there, a contract employee or a VA government employee?
BOWERS: Well, now it‘s contractors are taking care of it. But before then, it was federal employees who were taking care of it. And what you had essentially...
MATTHEWS: Who‘s better?
BOWERS: Well, it‘s hard to say who‘s better because we haven‘t...
MATTHEWS: You got to tell me. You‘re on television. What‘s better?
BOWERS: What‘s better for...
MATTHEWS: This is a policy question. Do you have a judgment?
BOWERS: I don‘t have a judgment of what‘s better because that‘s way above my pay grade, to be honest, on who would make the decision of what would treat them better. But what the problem- is...
MATTHEWS: But McCaffrey...
MATTHEWS: ... and said that one of the problems here is you‘re going to this outsourcing approach, and that hasn‘t been proven and...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t know, either?
BOWERS: No, but it‘s the six years. It should not take six years to make this decision. There‘s time limits set on these review processes, and it‘s there for a reason, because they know that while they‘re undergoing...
MATTHEWS: OK, who do you trust to fix this problem? Do you trust Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, or anybody on Capitol Hill you trust? Who do we have to rely on? The president hasn‘t been directly involved in this, but Bob Gates, the new secretary of Defense, seems like he‘s—you know, he‘s chopping heads here.
MATTHEWS: Is that going to work?
BOWERS: Well, I hope it does, and I think the congressional investigation is going to be very interesting to see what they come up with because...
MATTHEWS: ... chop enough heads, you got to end up with a good head to do the job.
MATTHEWS: That‘s the harder challenge. It‘s easier to fire people.
BOWERS: And that‘s what we hope so, and we hope that they‘re communicating with the veterans who have gone through this facility.
MATTHEWS: You want to take out the good people and tell these guys who the people aren‘t doing their jobs...
BOWERS: Well, I‘ll tell them this much, also. When I was over in Iraq, I was contracting to do reconstruction in Iraq. When I walked into Building 18 last week...
MATTHEWS: Yes, that...
BOWERS: Yes, sir. And the first thing that came into my head was, if I was able to do what I did before, I would cut a contract right now to fix this facility. It reminded me of some of the deplorable places that we saw in Iraq that we were spending tax dollars to fix. Why we‘re not doing it on the home turf is a real question.
MATTHEWS: Well, sometimes private sector work works. You know, Disneyland works. Some things really do work.
MATTHEWS: Coca-Cola works. They know how to do things in the private sector.
MATTHEWS: sometimes it doesn‘t work as effectively as people who have devoted their lives...
MATTHEWS: ... not just for the salary but for the cause of treating people who‘ve served their country.
MATTHEWS: That is a calling.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Sergeant Todd Bowers. Thank you, Annette McLeod. Thank you very much.
MCLEOD: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: And thank you for your husband‘s service.
MCLEOD: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: He‘s in a room there right now.
Up next: Who did better in Alabama, Barack or Hillary? We‘ll dig into that one with the HARDBALLers. And tomorrow on HARDBALL, an exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don‘t tell me I‘m not coming home when I come to Selma, Alabama! I‘m here because somebody marched!
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our future matters, and it is up to us to take it back!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hillary and Obama spent the weekend down South in Alabama. So how‘d they do? Plus, Rudy pulls up a strong showing at this weekend‘s conservative conference in Washington.
Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLers. Tonight, Lynn Sweet of “The Chicago Sun-Times” and Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”
Lynn, Hillary and Obama, who was most authentic speaking to an African-American audience?
LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”: Well, I score it different ways, but on...
MATTHEWS: How about authenticity?
SWEET: I think Senator Obama did a great job, partly because it was his natural audience. P...
MATTHEWS: How did he adapt so much to the Southern Baptist rhythms and cadences and style? He comes from a mixed family. He grew up in a big city of the North. He grew up, actually, up in Indonesia. And yet I saw a Southern preacher.
SWEET: Well, he slowed down his speech, that—which is one of the things that you see politicians do all the time. And you know, I know Senator Clinton got nailed with this, too...
MATTHEWS: What did you think of Hillary‘s accent?
SWEET: I was in there, and I wrote it was an effective Southern (INAUDIBLE) You see, we grew up pretty close to each other, and sometimes she can sound a little bit like I to, with my accent, and...
MATTHEWS: You got a Chicago accent.
SWEET: ... and she doesn‘t have it as heavy. And I...
MATTHEWS: Do you think...
MATTHEWS: ... in dangerous territory when they try other regions‘ accents?
SWEET: Yes. But you know, in some pats, she was quoting...
MATTHEWS: I know.
SWEET: ... something but...
MATTHEWS: ... actually speaking in the subjunctive.
MATTHEWS: All right.
SWEET: But having said that, most people don‘t know what the
reference is to, and I think you just have to be careful...
MATTHEWS: She‘s going to be used by the right-wing blogs.
SWEET: And that‘s what—Senator Obama did “y‘all,” which I—I cover him a lot, and I don‘t hear him say that. And he—he talks about speaking colloquially. It‘s—it just doesn‘t—he doesn‘t get...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes. I think...
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Howard? Give me a John Simon review of this.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: Oh! I think he brought it off a little better than she did, partly because...
MATTHEWS: Was she smart to go and compete?
FINEMAN: Oh, absolutely! You‘re always smart to go and compete.
FINEMAN: Yes. Any politicians who thinks he or she is making progress by not showing up, the way John McCain didn‘t show up with the conservatives...
MATTHEWS: Should she have gone—here‘s the tough (INAUDIBLE) here‘s the nail bitter. Should she have gone without that handsome gentleman accompanying her?
FINEMAN: Absolutely not!
MATTHEWS: She should have brought him.
FINEMAN: The other rule in politics is, Lead with your strength. I mean...
FINEMAN: I mean, Bill Clinton is beloved there, as he is among a lot of Democratic audiences. I think she gets points for going and points for competing. And I‘ll tell you what. Hillary is going to compete tooth and nail for every black vote...
MATTHEWS: Until the last dog dies, right?
FINEMAN: ... every black vote. She‘s not going to concede a one of them.
SWEET: And this is his territory. He was there in 2000, when he was president. People remember that. There might be other events...
MATTHEWS: He‘s from Arkansas.
SWEET: ... where we could see—he‘s a son of the South.
SWEET: And he‘s in the South. So...
MATTHEWS: ... great day for American democracy.
MATTHEWS: It was putting—they both put their best foot forward, and they both did better than you would have expected. I think Obama, though, keeps proving he can be an authentic African-American. Who am I to talk? But I think he‘s doing it.
We‘ll be right back with Lynn Sweet, Howard Fineman.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Lynn Sweet of “The Chicago Sun-Times” and Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.” At this weekend‘s big conservative conference, CPAC, Mitt Romney won the straw poll of several hundred people there with 21 percent. Giuliani actually came in second at 17. You see the rest—Brownback 15, Gingrich 14 and McCain down at 12. But they‘re all pretty well divided. It looks like—you know, it looks like basketball. It looks like a basketball score for all the guys, starting with the 21-point—no dominant force, but there we have Romney meeting a very conservative group, doing pretty good.
SWEET: Yes. And that shows that this is going to be a campaign where the Republicans field is spewing out frontrunners, just as the Democratic side is and...
MATTHEWS: I didn‘t see any big frontrunner there.
MATTHEWS: I saw a lot of division.
SWEET: No, but the idea that Giuliani could do that well before that
the guy who comes from behind is the one who overtakes the leader.
MATTHEWS: I told you so. I told you so because I think they‘re looking for a leader.
MATTHEWS: And you know what? Republicans like leaders, Howard.
SWEET: So when you see Giuliani with that kind of number, that is a big deal.
MATTHEWS: What do you think is going on here?
FINEMAN: Well, I was at the conference when they announced those numbers. And Romney won 21 percent, but a lot of people booed in the room when his name and results were announced.
FINEMAN: So you had this weird mixed message of, he finishes first, but a lot of people in the room also felt he‘s too much of a flip-flopper.
MATTHEWS: So 79 percent didn‘t like him.
FINEMAN: Well, no, it wasn‘t that. It was because they view him as a guy who‘s changed too many positions...
MATTHEWS: What about the flippers?
FINEMAN: ... too quickly.
FINEMAN: By the way—by the way, they booed McCain, also. They did not boo Rudy because even though he was not overwhelmingly popular with this conservative group, he didn‘t seem to them like a guy who was changing all his opinions for their sake at that time.
MATTHEWS: Can I try something by both of you? The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are different in culture, not just in ideology. And the Republican culture is a John Wayne culture. They want a leader, somebody to give orders and take names. They don‘t want a big consensus meeting or discussion. Democrats are collegial, consensual and sometimes chaotic.
MATTHEWS: but they‘re different parties.
SWEET: Democrats have a greater sense of tolerance for chaos, disorganization and messing it up...
MATTHEWS: Remember when we were growing, up, Will the delegates please clear the aisles, and nobody ever cleared the aisles.
SWEET: Oh, no. No, no. And...
MATTHEWS: In the Republican Party, when they said, Clear the aisles, they did.
SWEET: (INAUDIBLE) pandemonium at these Republican—at the Democratic gatherings, and there is more of a sense to have a tidy—tidy succession line of succession here...
MATTHEWS: How do you explain...
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry, Lynn. We have a short time.
MATTHEWS: I‘m looking here at this amazing poll in “Newsweek” that came out this weekend. And I get it at home early, so I‘ve been thinking about it. Look at the difference here, 59 percent for Giuliani, 34 percent McCain. McCain‘s been on programs like this for six years. People know him, and yet they‘re choosing Giuliani on the right side. What‘s going on?
FINEMAN: Well, what‘s going on is the leadership thing, as you mentioned, the post-9/11 thing that you mentioned, McCain being liked by the media for years.
FINEMAN: That‘s not helpful to him with Republican voters.
SWEET: And it‘s new.
FINEMAN: Doesn‘t help with Republican voters.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Lynn Sweet. Thank you, dear. Thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, dear.
MATTHEWS: Play HARDBALL with us Tuesday. We‘ll be joined by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. He‘s coning here. He‘s one of the frontrunners.
Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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