Planned Closure of Army Hospital Dealt Setback
The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a measure that would prevent federal funds from being used to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Washington Post reports. The provision was attached to the $124 billion Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental spending bill that goes to the House floor next week.
In 2005, the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure Commission selected Walter Reed to be closed in 2011. The facility was set to be consolidated with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
BRAC was established to prevent political factors from influencing decisions about base closures. Overturning a BRAC ruling would be "unprecedented," but (recently publicized issues at the facility "have sparked calls in Congress and elsewhere to reverse the decision," according to the Post.
The measure passed on Thursday states that "none of the funds in this or any other Act may be used to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center."
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a member of the committee, said, "This is a done deal. Walter Reed will stay open."
If the provision is eliminated from the spending bill, it "will almost certainly be revisited" in later legislation, according to the Post (Vogel, Washington Post, 3/16).
In related news, lawmakers are investigating whether resources are being shifted from care for returning troops to maintain a ward at Walter Reed designed for high-level government officials, USA Today reports.
Ward 72 is intended for the president, vice president, federal judges, members of Congress and the Cabinet, high-ranking military officials, foreign dignitaries and their spouses, and recipients of the Medal of Honor. The ward includes features such as heightened security, flat-panel televisions, antique furniture and fine china in the dining room.
House members are investigating "if the allocations of resources is in any way adversely impacting the treatment of the troops," Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) said.
Army spokesperson Cynthia Vaughan said running the ward costs $950,000 a year, or less than two-tenths of 1% of Walter Reed's budget, although she acknowledged that salaries for the medical personnel that run the ward come out of the general budget.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Blanck, who recently stayed in the ward, said, "It's certainly nicer surroundings. But the care is exactly the same ... that is given to every other patient at Walter Reed" (Zoroya, USA Today, 3/16).
In related news, NPR's "Morning Edition" on Friday included a report that examined how some veteran groups and Republican lawmakers maintain the Bush administration has "systematically underfunded" the VA health care system. The segment includes comments from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); Sean Kevelighan, a spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget; Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.); and Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America (Ydstie, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/16). Audio of the segment is available online.
In addition, PBS' "Charlie Rose" on Wednesday included an interview with Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) about health care for veterans (Rose, "Charlie Rose," PBS, 3/15). Video of the complete program is available online.