Gates promises changes at Walter Reed hospital

Defense Secretary Robert M.Gates took a personal look at Walter Reed Army Hospital’s outpatient care today and declared conditions there “unacceptable.”

Gates said “a number” of those responsible for the deplorable conditions at the hospital have been relieved of duties.

“This is unacceptable and will not continue,” Gates declared.

Reports William Branigin of The Washington Post:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today announced the formation of an independent panel to look into what he called an “unacceptable situation” with outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he vowed that those responsible will be held accountable.

Some people who were “directly involved” in the problems at the Washington, D.C., complex already have been relieved of their duties, Gates disclosed, but he did not elaborate.

In a news briefing after touring the facility and speaking to wounded soldiers there, Gates said he was “dismayed” to learn from a Washington Post series published Sunday and Monday that some injured troops have not been receiving “the best possible treatment at all stages of their recovery.”

The Post found recovering soldiers living in squalid conditions in Building 18, a decrepit former hotel just outside the Walter Reed grounds, with some of the quarters plagued by mold, rot and vermin. The series also documented a larger issue of bureaucratic indifference that soldiers and family members said had demoralized them and impeded recovery.

Gates declared today, “This is unacceptable, and it will not continue.” He said he briefed President Bush this morning on the situation and described him as “understandably concerned and emphatic in wanting the best possible care for our wounded soldiers and for their families.”

Noting that the recovering soldiers have paid a high price for defending the nation, Gates said, “They should not have to recuperate in substandard housing, nor should they be expected to tackle mountains of paperwork and bureaucratic processes. . . . They battled our foreign enemies; they should not have to battle an American bureaucracy.”

Gates announced the formation of what he called “an independent review group” consisting of eight military, medical and political leaders to “take a broad look at all our rehabilitative care and administrative processes here at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center” in nearby Bethesda, Md.

He said the group would be co-chaired by Togo D. West Jr., former secretary of veterans affairs and secretary of the Army under President Bill Clinton, and John O. “Jack” Marsh Jr., former secretary of the Army under President Ronald Reagan and a former member of Congress from Virginia. Other members include two other former members of Congress from the Republican and Democratic parties, three retired senior military officers and a retired command sergeant major.


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