Staffing Shake-Up Continues at Army Hospital
Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, announced on Thursday that Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker will take over as deputy commanding general of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Washington Post reports (White/Tyson, Washington Post, 3/9).
The Post recently published a two-part series that examined conditions at the military hospital. 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 (California Healthline, 3/5).
Several Army officials -- including Walter Reed commander Maj. Gen. George Weightman and Army Secretary Francis Harvey -- were fired last week after the Post series was published. Maj. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, who previously was commander of the Army's Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, Md., now serves as acting chief of the facility (California Healthline, 3/8).
As the new deputy commanding general of Walter Reed, Tucker is charged with creating a brigade designed to help outpatients maneuver facility bureaucracy.
Cody on Thursday also announced that Terrence McKenrick has been chosen to head the Bush administration's Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade, a commission formed to help guide patients through the process of readjusting to civilian society and dealing with paperwork and reassignment (Washington Post, 3/9). Cody said that Walter Reed officials have hired additional caseworkers, financial specialists and others to work with soldiers' families.
In addition, Cody said that a worldwide telephone hot line is currently being constructed for soldiers that have family or medical issues (Yen, AP/Spokane Spokesman-Review, 3/9). Cody on Friday is expected to host a video teleconference with hospital commanders in which he will highlight deficiencies in veteran care nationwide (Washington Post, 3/9).
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, on Thursday during remarks at a hearing said that problems found at Walter Reed might extend to veterans' hospitals across the country, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. The committee began investigating the nation's 1,400 veterans' hospitals and clinics after the Post series on Walter Reed was published.
About 5.8 million veterans are treated in such facilities.
Mitchell said he was unsure whether Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson was doing enough for veterans' care (AP/Baltimore Sun, 3/9).
During the hearing, Paul Sullivan, a former project manager for VA, testified that he had sent e-mails to military officials warning that more staff and funding was needed to handle an influx of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, "I made those warnings on several occasions" (AP/Spokane Spokesman-Review, 3/9).
Mitchell said, "That's unacceptable and embarrassing, and the American people deserve answers." He added, "I'm not convinced the Veterans Affairs department is doing its part" (Yen, AP/Spokane Spokesman-Review, 3/9).
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Thursday introduced a bill that would stop the planned closure of Walter Reed. Under a law passed in 2005, the hospital is set to close in 2011 and have its services merge with the National Naval Medical Center. Norton said that skilled personnel will decline to work at Walter Reed because of the planned closing, which will prevent problems from being fixed.
Norton said Congress should "reverse the madness of closing the nation's best and most vital military hospital in the middle of a shooting war and the war on terrorism" (Washington Post, 3/9).
Meanwhile, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Larry Craig (R-Idaho) on Thursday introduced a measure that would allow veterans to choose the hospital at which they would receive treatment, rather than being limited to those affiliated with VA, CongressDaily reports. Craig said, "Let's see where the veterans go. ... This bill is about my confidence in VA."
Joe Violante, legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, said he is opposed to the bill. "It would undermine the VA and cost the taxpayer more money," Violante said (CongressDaily, 3/8).
In other veterans' health news, the New York Times on Friday examined how veterans "face serious inequities in compensation for disabilities depending on where they live and whether they were on active duty or were members of the National Guard or the Reserve," according to the paper's analysis of VA data. According to the Times, those factors "determine whether some soldiers wait nearly twice as long to get benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs as others, and collect less money."
The VA said it is working to address the backlog of disability claims by authorizing more overtime and adding claims development centers. In addition, the department said it is working on a study that will examine the state-by-state difference in average disability compensation payments.
According to advocates and former department officials, "problems partly stem from the agency's inability to prepare for predictable surges in demand from certain states or certain categories of services members," the Times reports. Moreover, "[s]taffing levels at the veterans' agency vary widely and have not kept pace with the increased demand" of claims, according to the Times.
The VA in a statement said, "VA's focus is to assure consistent application of the regulations governing VA disability determinations in all states" (Urbina/Nixon, New York Times, 3/9).
PBS' "Washington Week" on Friday is scheduled to include a discussion with Dana Priest, one of the reporters who wrote the Post series examining conditions at Walter Reed ("Washington Week," PBS, 3/9). A video of the segment will be available online after the broadcast. A transcript of the complete program also will be available online after the broadcast.
In addition, KPCC's "Patt Morrison": The program on Friday is scheduled to include a discussion about conditions at military medical facilities ("Patt Morrison," KPCC, 3/9). Audio of the segment will be available online after the broadcast.