Veterans’ Health Care Task Force Kicks Off Hearings
Injured U.S. troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq face an unacceptable amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, members of a presidential commission on veterans' health said Saturday, the AP/Orlando Sentinel reports (Yen, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 4/15).
President Bush last month named former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala as co-chairs of the commission. Dole, a senator for 28 years, is a disabled veteran from World War II. Appointed as HHS secretary by former President Clinton in 1993, Shalala served as agency head for eight years, and she now is president of the University of Miami.
Bush formed the commission after the Washington Post published a two-part series that examined conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. 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, 3/8).
During its first official hearing on Saturday, the nine-member commission heard testimony from veterans, veterans' spouses and advocacy groups. Its members promised to act quickly to solve problems.
Dole said that the commission planned to use the work of nine congressional committees and other panels that also are investigating veterans' health care problems.
Three commission members who are veterans or spouses of veterans of the Iraq war said the panel would aim to correct the overly bureaucratic military health care system (AP/Orlando Sentinel, 4/15).
Marc Giammatteo, an Iraq veteran and a member of the commission, said, "On several occasions, I, and others I have spoken to, felt that we were being judged as if we chose our nation's foreign policy and, as a result, received little if any assistance" (Pear, New York Times, 4/15).
The commission also heard testimony from former Army secretaries Togo West and John Marsh, who were appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to conduct a separate review. Their report, issued last week, found that financial problems and neglect were to blame for the situation (AP/Orlando Sentinel, 4/15).
In his testimony, West stressed the need for more research on traumatic brain injuries, which he called the "signature wound of this war."
Dole said, "Our objective is to make it easier for our returning veterans." He added that the commission was not going to conduct "a witch hunt or a whitewash" (Clark, Miami Herald, 4/15).
Shalala said that the commission planned to be "solution-driven," adding, "Our timeline for action is very short" (AP/Orlando Sentinel, 4/15).
The panel plans to hold several more hearings around the country and is expected to issue its final recommendations by June 30. The commission can extend its deadline to July 31 if necessary (New York Times, 4/15).
A "battle is brewing over when to close the existing Walter Reed campus," a Washington Post editorial states, adding, "What is imperative is improving conditions at the current Walter Reed campus and ensuring that the eventual realignment occurs smoothly" (Washington Post, 4/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.