Task Forces Will Target Reform at Army Hospital
President Bush during a speech before the American Legion on Tuesday named former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala as co-chairs of a commission that will examine the care that wounded veterans receive after they return from war, both at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at other military hospitals across the nation, the Washington Post reports (White, Washington Post, 3/7).
Bush said that Dole and Shalala are "two distinguished public servants" who would review soldiers' care "from the time they leave the battlefield through their return to civilian life as veterans" (Goldstein, Kansas City Star, 3/7).
According to the Post, the appointment of Dole and Shalala is "a nod to bipartisanship." Dole, a senator for 28 years, is a disabled veteran from World War II. Shalala was appointed as HHS secretary by President Clinton in 1993 and served as agency head for eight years, the longest period in history.
Bush said the nine-member review committee, called the Commission on Care for Returning Wounded Warriors, will evaluate how wounded service members transition from active duty to civilian society. In addition, the commission will review "the coordination, management and adequacy of the delivery of health care, disability, traumatic injury, education, employment, and other benefits and services," according to an executive order issued by Bush (Washington Post, 3/7).
Dole and Shalala are scheduled to meet with the president at the White House on Wednesday.
The appointment of Dole and Shalala follows public disclosure of health care problems at military hospitals in a two-part series in the Post.
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.
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.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs on Monday held a hearing at Walter Reed to address concerns about quality of care and living conditions.
The Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday also was scheduled to hold a hearing about the facility (California Healthline, 3/6).
In his speech at the American Legion, Bush said, "We have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who served our country. They deserve it, and they're going to get it" (Flaherty, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/7).
Bush said, "I am as concerned as you are about the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. My decisions have put our kids in harm's way. And I'm concerned about the fact that when they come back, they don't get the full treatment they deserve," adding, "It's unacceptable to me, and it's not going to continue" (Douglas/Rosen, McClatchy/Raleigh News & Observer, 3/7).
Shalala in a statement said, "I am truly honored that President Bush has asked Sen. Bob Dole and me to co-chair the commission that will review the care and services provided to our returning wounded service members." She added, "We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our fellow Americans who are serving our country in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. They deserve access to high-quality health care and other benefits and services as they transition from deployment to other military service or civilian life" (Washington Post, 3/7).
Dole in an e-mail said he is "pleased" to be working with Shalala (Kansas City Star, 3/7).
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote that he hoped the commission would be "a serious step toward addressing the multiple problems" in veteran care (Skiba, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/6).
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, "We need decisive action, not commission after commission and report after report that the president can choose to ignore" (Washington Post, 3/7).
According to the Star, the new commission headed by Dole and Shalala "is just one of several oversight panels looking into conditions at Walter Reed and other military medical centers and veterans hospitals as well" (Kansas City Star, 3/7).
Bush on Tuesday also requested that Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson to lead a task force of seven Cabinet members that will "focus and respond to immediate needs" of veterans and troops returning home from war (Luo, New York Times, 3/7).
The VA task force will "examine the immediate needs at Walter Reed and other facilities," CongressDaily reports. The VA report is due back to Bush within 45 days, according to Nicholson (Kivlan, CongressDaily, 3/6).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday called a news conference in which Senate Democrats said that Bush administration efforts to provide care for returning troops from Iraq has been a "massive failure."
Democrats said that the VA and defense department were not prepared to provide care for veterans with traumatic brain injuries, which they said were the "signature wound of the war." Democrats also said that the Bush administration failed to provide appropriate care for troops with post traumatic stress disorder (CongressDaily, 3/6).
Several broadcast programs reported on issues related to Walter Reed. Summaries appear below.
- ABC's "World News": The segment includes comments from Bush (Vargas, "World News," ABC, 3/6). Video of the segment is available online. In addition, "World News" reported on conditions at VA medical centers. The segment includes comments from veterans who were injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Woodruff, "World News," ABC, 3/6). Video of the segment is available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the surgeon general for the Army and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command; Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.); Bush; and Dole (Martin, "Evening News," CBS, 3/6). Video of the segment is available online.
- C-SPAN's "Washington Journal": Guests on Tuesday's program included Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) ("Washington Journal," C-SPAN, 3/6). Video of the segment is available online.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees; and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) (Myers, "Nightly News," NBC, 3/6). Video of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Bush (Block , "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/6). Audio of the segment is available online. "All Things Considered" on Tuesday also included a report on access to mental health care by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Zwerling, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/6). Audio of the segment is available online. In addition, the program included a discussion with Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, about the differences between the Department of Veterans Affairs health system and oversight of Walter Reed (Block , "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/6). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The program on Wednesday included a discussion with Paul Sullivan, former project manager at the VA, about Walter Reed and issues that affect veterans' access to care (Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/6). Audio of the segment is available online.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes comments from Gen. Peter Schoomaker, outgoing Army chief of staff; Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.); Kiley; Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); and McCaskill (Woodruff, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 3/6). Audio and a transcript of the segment are available online.
- PRI's "The World": The segment includes comments from Bush, Senate Armed Service Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.), McCain, Kiley and Schoomaker (Bell, "The World," PRI, 3/6). Audio of the segment is available online.