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American Forces Press Service

Gates, Pace Discuss Way Forward at Walter Reed

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2007 – The military will not wait to hear the results of many boards examining military and veterans medical care, but will move out to correct the situation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a news roundtable today.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he felt sick when he heard of the conditions at an outpatient facility at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. He vowed to look at hospitals in totality in the future.

Gates said he had visited with former Kansas Sen. Robert Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala following a visit to the White House earlier today and thanked them for taking on the job of evaluating the “full continuum of care” that servicemembers and veterans receive. President Bush yesterday named Dole and Shalala to head the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors.

An independent review group on Walter Reed that Gates appointed has begun its work and will report back its initial findings in early April, the secretary said.

“This deadline is relatively short for a reason: to make sure we identify additional flaws in the system and get on with fixing them as fast as possible,” Gates said.

The secretary has ordered acting Army Secretary Pete Geren to report to him about the service’s action plan to fix the outpatient situation at Walter Reed. “I will expect progress reports on this every two weeks,” he said.

He also has tasked David S. C. Chu, the defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, and Dr. William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, to conduct a comprehensive review of all medical care programs, facilities and procedures of all services to ensure the department is providing servicemembers the standard of care they deserve.

“I have told them that resources will not be an issue,” he said.

Gates said that when he first heard of the conditions at Walter Reed -- a hospital considered “the jewel in the crown” of military medical facilities -- he immediately thought of what conditions were like at other facilities. He said he knew the department needed to see what conditions were like throughout the services and in the handoff between DoD care and that from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“That's why I am so supportive of … the Dole-Shalala effort that looks at this process end to end, … from the time a soldier is wounded on the battlefield until he or she is either returned to service or is discharged and ends up at their local VA hospital or back at home,” the secretary said.

It’s important that the process works from servicemembers’ standpoint and is not simply a bureaucratic process, and it’s important that “the quality of attention and care through that whole spectrum is what it should be,” he said. “And I'm concerned that it's not.”

Gates said that after fighting the war itself, “fixing the problems associated with care for our wounded must be our highest priority.”

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