Panel Advocates Closure of Walter Reed Medical Center
A panel appointed by the Department of Defense on Wednesday released a preliminary report recommending that Walter Reed Army Medical Center be closed as soon as possible, the Washington Post reports (Vogel, Washington Post, 4/12).
The panel, known as the Independent Review Group, was appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in February after the Post featured a series detailing poor conditions for people receiving outpatient care at Walter Reed (Shane, New York Times, 4/12). 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.
The panel on Wednesday met with the Defense Health Board, an advisory panel, to discuss its draft report. The group is slated to give its final recommendations to Gates next week.
In the report, the group recommended 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 by 2011. The panel said that funding for the project should be released promptly so construction on the new $2 billion facility could begin right away.
The panel also recommended that hundreds of millions of dollars be invested in Walter Reed until its closing in order to address problems with infrastructure and a shortage in nursing and medical staffs. The panel in its report found that a White House initiative to privatize parts of the federal work force had had a "destabilizing effect" on Walter Reed's ability to hire and retain quality staff.
The panel recommended that Walter Reed and other military treatment facilities be exempt from the privatization policy (Washington Post, 4/12). Panel members called for the creation of a "center of excellence" that would train and educate medical staff and troops about traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
West said, "The horrors inflicted on our wounded service members and their families in the name of the physical disability review process simply must be stopped." West added that the Army lacks an adequate system to properly diagnose and treat brain injuries. He said, "We believe there is a need for greater and better coordinated research in this area" (New York Times, 4/12).
Marsh during the meeting said that "a perfect storm" of circumstances including high casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, a move to privatize the workforce and the 2005 decision to close the facility had led to the poor outpatient conditions. Marsh added that DOD must "[k]eep Walter Reed going fully funded -- no dying on the vine -- right up to the moment they are ready to turn the key" on the new facility (Washington Post, 4/12).
Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the new commander of Walter Reed, in response to the panel's report said, "We will not rest until these problems are solved" (Yen, AP/Detroit Free Press, 4/12).
In related news, Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday said they would push for legislation that would extend treatment for soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, the Indianapolis Star reports.
The senators, who are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said they would propose legislation that would allow affected soldiers to remain on active-duty status for one year so they could remain under the care of DOD, rather the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Bayh said that soldiers could get better care through the Pentagon's health care system. Bayh said, "The VA does a great job. But they've simply been overwhelmed by the number of these types of injuries and are still in transition in terms of how best to treat them."
Lucille Beck, a VA official in charge of rehabilitation services, said that the agency already sends injured soldiers to the Pentagon system for treatment when necessary. She said, "We are doing it now, and we are doing a good job" (Groppe, Indianapolis Star, 4/12).
Troops returning from war "don't need another spit and polish; they need lawyers," Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University and a member of USA Today's board of contributors, writes in a USA Today opinion piece.
"For decades, our military members have been barred from suing for medical malpractice and other forms of negligence by the government," Turley writes, adding, "The result is that they are victims of grotesque forms of negligence that have not been widely seen in the civilian world for more than a hundred years."
Turley continues, "If members of Congress truly want the best for our troops, they should start by giving them the same legal protections that the members themselves enjoy " (Turley, USA Today, 4/12).