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Bush Apologizes for Poor Conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center



30 March 2007

President Bush has apologized for the poor living conditions for some wounded servicemen and women at a military hospital outside the capital. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

It was the president's first visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center since a newspaper last month reported recuperating soldiers living in a run-down building infested with mice, mold, and cockroaches.

Building 18 has since been closed and patients there moved elsewhere. But the ensuing scandal has claimed the general in charge of the hospital and the Secretary of the Army.

Speaking to medical staff at Walter Reed Friday, President Bush said he is deeply troubled by the incidents and has named a bipartisan commission to investigate what he calls administrative and bureaucratic failures.

"The system failed you and it failed our troops and we are going to fix it," he said. "I met some of the soldiers who had been housed in Building 18. I was disturbed by their accounts of what went wrong. It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear our uniform and not get the best possible care. I apologize for what they went through, and we are going to fix the problem."

It was the president's 12th trip to Walter Reed, visits that are almost always private with the White House occasionally releasing an official photograph.

Friday, Mr. Bush met with more than a dozen physical therapy patients under the glare of television lights, shaking hands and posing for photos with the two-month-old daughter of a man run over by a bulldozer under sniper fire.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says suggestions that this was a publicity trip for the president are "an unfortunate characterization." She says it took time to clear enough room on the president's schedule to visit Walter Reed six weeks after the problems were first reported.

Opposition Democrats in Congress want the Veteran's Administration to report back to them within 60 days about whether the agency has resolved complaints over living conditions and bureaucratic delays in providing follow-up care.

Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray blames President Bush for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who she says have been lost in the system.

"We are now starting the fifth year of this war. And to date, this president has not planned and supported funding to make sure that those men and women, whether it is traumatic brain injury, whether they've lost a limb, whether it's post-traumatic-stress syndrome, or whether it's just coming home and being able to find another job, have been paid attention to," she said.

The president has told his bipartisan commission on veterans' health care to report back to him by the end of July. A Defense Department review is expected to release its findings in the next two weeks.



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