House Approves Bill To Improve Medical Care for Soldiers
The House on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation (HR 1538) intended to improve care for wounded soldiers treated at military facilities, the Los Angeles Times reports (Schreck, Los Angeles Times, 3/28).
The House Armed Services Committee last week unanimously approved the legislation. The bill was spurred by reports of inadequate care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The legislation would establish case managers to help soldiers navigate through the outpatient system, with each case manager limited to 17 patients. It also would establish service member advocates who would help patients with personal issues and medical advocates to help patients navigate through the medical evaluation board process.
In addition, the bill would establish a toll-free hotline to report problems in care and a plan to resolve problems within 96 hours of the call; a 12-member advisory board appointed by lawmakers and administration officials to oversee medical care, administration and family programs meant to support injured troops; and a program to test a more formal manner of transferring medical cases from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The legislation would require the military to alert Congress whenever a soldier is placed in a medical facility from a combat zone, which would allow lawmakers to contact families and offer help. It also would commission several new reports from DOD, including a review of its system for rating disabilities, which soldiers contend underrates certain disabilities or claims unrelated to combat. Committee Chair Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) sponsored the legislation (American Health Line, 3/21).
More than 25,000 U.S. service members would be affected by the legislation (Abrams, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/29).
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said, "The key is to have a system that is customer-friendly to our wounded service members and their families." He added, "We need to push back the bureaucracy and treat all these people like VIPs" (Los Angeles Times, 3/28).
The White House in a statement said the legislation was premature. The administration said Congress should wait for a report from a presidential commission that is examining outpatient living conditions and treatment at Walter Reed. The commission's report is expected in July.
Skelton said that more can be done later but that the legislation is "needed now to provide immediate support for our wounded warriors." The bill requires Senate confirmation before it goes to President Bush for approval (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/29).