We begin tonight with Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
Senator, McCaskill, When did you learn about the horror stories over at Walter Reed and the way our guys with amputated legs and arms and everything else being treated over there?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: I was actually in Washington Sunday morning because we had been there for the vote on Saturday afternoon and read the paper and physically felt ill. And, you know, I dont think Americans should be distracted by this story that came out today about somebody in charge of fund-raising.
Bottom line, if we cant get this right, then weve got something terribly wrong. These men haveand women havehave been seriously injured on the battlefield. Theyve fought a war for us. They shouldnt have to come home and fight a war for care.
MATTHEWS: Its an Army hospital, Walter Reed. Youd think the Army would be the best possible institution to look out for the Army.
MCCASKILL: Well, if you look at what happened...
MATTHEWS: What happened?
MCCASKILL: Well, its not the hospital thats the problem. Its the outpatient. And I think their system has been overloaded. I dont think they were prepared for the number of outpatients that they have, the serious injuries that are occurring, the loss of limbs, the need for social workers, the reintegration. Theyve overwhelmed these men and women with paperwork and bureaucracy. And they didnt have any place to put them. So they start putting them places that they shouldnt have put them.
And hopefully this will get fixed before any legislation will be passed. Frankly, they ought to have helicopters in there today taking these men and women away to better places if these facilities are sub par.
And I hope the presidentyou know, I am really tired of "Support the Troops" as a political slogan. Every Republican and Democrat on the Hill ought to join together and say, "We must fix this, its a moral imperative."
MATTHEWS: Well, youre the new kid on the block. You cant be blamed. But arent you amazed that all the senators working around you havent done anything about this? They go out there to visit, theyve got staff people hearing complaints. Apparently, the names of staffSenate staff people on the walls over there at Walter Reed of who to call up and get some action, and yet nowhere along the line did somebody come out and look at the place and tell the boss what it looked like out there at this Building 18, which is really sort of a one-star motel, where theyve put these people.
MCCASKILL: Well, you know, if there have been members of Congress who have toured Building 18 with mold and rotting ceilings andand rodent and insect problems, Im disappointed.
I know that a member of my staff will be out there on Thursday to look around. And I will, you know, personally get out there when we get back next week.
But it shouldnt take a member of Congress to tour a facility to get it right, Chris. These arethese are valiant warriors. They have left limbs on the battlefield for our country. We shouldnt have to be hearing these horror stories. This should be the highest priority within the military.
And part of the problem here is youve got so many bureaucracies, youve got the bureaucracy thats ready to shut down Walter Reed because of base closings, then youve got the bureaucracy that wants to move these people from active duty into the veteran system, and youve got al of these bureaucracies swirling around.
Meanwhile, these poor men and women and their families have just been left out in the cold. Literally.
MATTHEWS: What I dont understand is everythings a surprise, senator. The war in Iraq was a surprise. It was supposed to be, you know, a cakewalk. Then we faced insurgency and opposition to our involvementour occupation. What country wouldnt have opposed an occupation? Then we had engaged in counter-insurgency with all of the torture and everything else. That all comes with counter-insurgency.
All this stuff has been done a million times by European colonial powers. And one thing we know, if you go into a third world country, youre going to get shot at.
And because of modern medicine, the guys are going to survive most of them, but with legs missing, arms missing, torsos basically there all alone. And everybody acts like its a damn surprise that we needed hospital space. We have almost 40,000 wounded coming out of that war and its a surprise. Everything is a damn surprise. Thats what I dont get.
And everybody knew when we went into this war that the chiefthe decider says he decides everything. Well, he decided to go into a war with this level of casualties predicted.
And, by the way, whats with the surge? That means more casualties coming. Is that going to be a surprise out there at Walter Reed, more casualties? Thats a surprise?
MCCASKILL: I would like the president to speak to the nation about this problem. I would like him to explain how in his budget hes asking for the veterans of this country to give billions of dollars for their care while hes continuing to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest in America.
There is an awful lot of explaining that needs to be done. And, frankly, II am so disappointed that they have this story out there that supposedlyyou know, and maybe this...
MATTHEWS: Why did you bring up tax breaks? Thats irrelevant.
MCCASKILL: It is. Its relevant because were talking about veterans care, Chris. Were talking about...
MATTHEWS: No, this guys willing to run any size deficit. You think
have you seen any evidence that George Bush wont borrow money if he wants to spend it somewhere? Do you think he really would fight one less war because he didnt have the money?
Its not about the tax base. Democrats shift the topic to favorable territory.
The issue here is treatment of the guys and women who fight for us and give their lives and limbs for us. Thats the issue. Lets stay on it.
MCCASKILL: I couldnt agree more...
MATTHEWS: Lets stay on this issue, senator.
MCCASKILL: I couldnt agree more...
MATTHEWS: OK. What are you going do to make sure this gets changed?
Now, you say theyre going to go to some better facility. Whats the name of that facility, other than take them over to Bethesda Naval? Where are they going to take these guys?
MCCASKILL: This freshman senator is going to put legislation in next week to require more I.G. inspections, to require standards of care, to require more social workers, less paperwork. Thisthis is somebody who agrees with you, Chris. I am amazed at the lack of accountability within the Department of Defense, whether its the way they spend money and within the veterans administration.
And the point I was making was not about the tax base, its about this president saying "Support the troops" while he gives the back of his hands to veterans and wounded Americans. Thats what this is about.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the people on Armed Services Committee, people like McCain and Warner?
I respect those guys. Theyre guys who fought for their country. You know, I respect them as people. But isnt it the Armed Services Committees job to look out for these people?
MATTHEWS: What about the Veterans Committee? These committees meet all the time. They have field trips all the time. How come they never had a field trip out to Walter Reed?
MCCASKILL: Thats a good question.
MATTHEWS: I mean, these guys travel all around the world going to interesting places. I dont blame them. But they should have visited Walter Reed. Its in Washington, where they work.
MCCASKILL: I agree. And I think many of them have and I think in the "Washington Post" story, it talked about how fine the hospital was. This was like the dirty little secret across the street.
MCCASKILL: This was a problem that was out of sight, out of mind. And that was all these men and women that are outpatientsweve got nine Missourians there right now. I want to make sure that they get the best we can possibly give them.
MATTHEWS: Well, its great having you on. Im taking you on because youre the only senator Ive got in front of me tonight. But lets face it, theres a lot of activity out there now that wasnt there three days ago. And with all the bashing of the press, once again, its the press that brings the news to the politicians so they can act because they have to at that point.
MCCASKILL: And by the way, my congratulations to the journalist who wrote this story...
MATTHEWS: Its Dana Priest, shes aboutIm sure she deserves it and shes coming on.
MCCASKILL: ... she deserves it.
This is what this is all about. This is what journalism is supposed to be about in this country.
And we should have done this better and thank goodness we have a free press thatthat points out how badly were doing something so we hopefully can get it fixed.
MATTHEWS: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, thank you very much.