Army Officials Pledge To Boost Health Care System
Pentagon officials at a House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday testified that military officials have been working to implement measures that would improve outpatient care for returning troops, including increased health screenings, an improved record-keeping system and a simplified system for disability claims, the AP/Washington Times reports (AP/Washington Times, 4/18).
A panel appointed by the Department of Defense last week released a preliminary report recommending that Walter Reed Army Medical Center be closed as soon as possible. The panel, known as the Independent Review Group, was appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in February after the Washington Post featured a series detailing poor conditions for people receiving outpatient care at Walter Reed.
The nine-member panel is co-chaired by Togo West, secretary of the Army under former President Bill Clinton, and John Marsh, secretary of the Army under former President Ronald Reagan.
In the report, the group recommended that DOD accelerate plans to enact a 2005 decision to close Walter Reed and have its facilities merged with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., by 2011 (California Healthline, 4/12).
Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense, and Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army's acting surgeon general, during the hearing spoke about the need for major changes in outpatient care conditions for returning troops. Dominguez and Pollock also expressed confidence in the new leadership at Walter Reed and said that the Army has been working to implement several changes to its outpatient care system.
For example, Pollock said the Army is working to decrease the time that veterans wait to receive follow-up medical appointments.
Further, the Army is investigating complaints made via a toll-free hot line set up to identify problems with outpatient veteran care, and Army officials last week trained 23 troops to help guide service members through the disability benefit process.
In a prepared statement, Pollock said, "We believe we have the right people and the right mechanisms in place to makes sure that all soldiers who are in a transitional status -- our warriors in transition -- are managed with care and compassion and that they and their families are receiving the care they so justly deserve" (AP/Washington Times, 4/18).
Dominguez said, "Today, we are making dramatic improvements in our system, discarding outdated assumptions, removing bureaucratic roadblocks, improving information sharing [and] refocusing our attention to the one thing that matters most" -- the health of service members.
However, Subcommittee Chair John Tierney (D-Mass.) said that Army officials had known about problems at Walter Reed for years, "but the problems have not yet been fixed."
Subcommittee ranking member Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) recommended that the Army put in place an ombudsman to assist wounded troops and their families (Posner, CongressDaily, 4/17).
In his testimony, Marsh said that quick action is necessary to address the "sea of bureaucracy and red tape" that is prevalent in military health care, adding, "Please, I beg of you, have the commitment and the perseverance to see through that legislative challenge" (Vogel, Washington Post, 4/18).
Lawmakers and advocates addressing the military health care system "need to understand the full financial implications that will affect the federal treasury for generations when they recommend changes in treatment and disability liability for the government," a Washington Times editorial states. It adds, "And they need to be fully seized of the drastic current shortages of available caseworkers and other health providers before they make policy commitments that are probably not doable in the short term -- no matter our good intentions." The editorial urges "both Republicans and Democrats, the executive and legislative branches and the press and the public to ease back their expectations for quick-review-process public conclusions" (Washington Times, 4/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.