Commission Heads Advocate Military Hospital Review
Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said during CNN's "Late Edition" on Sunday that the Bush administration should examine all of the nation's military and veterans' hospitals to determine where the system failed, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Dole and Shalala are co-chairs of a presidential commission to examine the care that wounded veterans receive after they return from war (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/11).
President Bush created the commission after the Washington Post published a two-part series that examined conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. One article profiled the state of Building 18, which has mold, cockroaches and stained carpets, among other issues. The series also examined the process by which injured soldiers seek disability compensation.
Dole, a senator for 28 years, is a disabled veteran from World War II.
Shalala -- currently the president of the University of Miami -- was appointed as HHS secretary by President Clinton in 1993 and served as agency head for eight years (California Healthline, 3/7).
Shalala said the commission will examine the system from the time "someone is hurt in Iraq and Afghanistan, all the way through, and to see not simply where the glitches are, but where the whole government has broken down." Shalala added that soldiers "don't have time to waste while we debate who's responsible here. They want that care now, and they want it to be of the highest quality."
Dole said, "We want to take a look and see where the problems are and see if it can be fixed. It may not need more money. It just may need clarification or somehow better coordination between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/11).
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) during the Democrats' weekly radio address on Saturday said that problems at Walter Reed show "a catastrophic failure of leadership" by the Bush administration.
Mitchell said, "This is no way to treat our troops, no way to treat our veterans, and Democrats are taking action." Mitchell added, "Sadly, what is happening at Walter Reed is not an exception to the way this administration has treated our troops. What we now know is that the situation at Walter Reed cannot simply be fixed with drywall and paint."
Mitchell said that Democrats have added about $3.5 billion for veterans' health care to an emergency war funding request by Bush (AP/Boston Herald, 3/10).
In other news, the Walter Reed situation has "focused attention on the Army's decision to privatize the facilities support workforce at the hospital," the Washington Post reports.
According to the Post, "[s]ome Democratic lawmakers have questioned" the decision in 2006 to grant IAP Worldwide Services -- a contractor "with connections to the Bush administration and to KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary" -- a $120 million, five-year contract to maintain and operate Walter Reed facilities. IAP took over management at Walter Reed last month.
Since then, the number of management workers at Walter Reed has dropped from about 180 to 100, "and the hospital found it hard to hire replacements," the Post reports.
Maj. Gen. George Weightman, who recently was fired as commander of Walter Reed, testified last week that the privatization, in addition to the decision to close Walter Reed by 2011, "absolutely" contributed to problems at the facility.
IAP in a statement said that it has "responded with a sense of urgency to address maintenance concerns throughout the (Walter Reed) complex" (Vogel/Merle, Washington Post, 3/10).
Several broadcast programs recently reported on issues related to medical care for troops. Summaries appear below.
- ABC's "This Week": The program on Sunday included a discussion with Dole about medical care for veterans, among other topics (Stephanopoulos, "This Week," ABC, 3/11). Video and a transcript of the segment are available online.
- CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer": The program on Sunday included a discussion with Dole and Shalala about medical care for troops (Roberts, "Late Edition," CNN, 3/11). The segment is available online.
- NBC's "Meet the Press": The program on Sunday included a discussion with Dana Priest, one of the reporters who wrote the Post series on conditions at military medical facilities (Russert, "Meet the Press," NBC, 3/11). Video of the segment is available online. A transcript of the complete program also is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The program on Monday profiled Army Sgt. Chase Gean, who was paralyzed during service in Afghanistan and has encountered delays in receiving physical therapy because of paperwork issues (Thys, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/12). Audio of the segment is available online. "Morning Edition" on Monday also reported on the Contra Costa County, Calif., Veterans Services Office, which assists veterans in obtaining health care and other benefits through the VA (McChesney, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/12). Audio of the segment is available online.