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American Forces Press Service

Bush Assures Wounded Warrior Commission He'll Act on Recommendations

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2007 – President Bush met this morning with members of the Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors to tell them he’s behind their efforts and will act on the problems they identify.

The president established the commission March 6 to conduct a comprehensive review of military medical care at both Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and outpatient facilities. He asked its members to recommend ways to improve the transition to other military service or civilian life; ensure high-quality services for wounded troops and increase their access to benefits and services.

“I assured the members of this committee that I will support their work and will address the problems that they find,” the president told reporters after the meeting. “We owe it to those who wear the uniform and their families to make sure our troops have the best, and that is what this commission is meant to do.”

Bush thanked the commission members for the contributions they are making – today and into the future. “You’re doing the country a great service, because the commission report will ensure that service goes beyond my time in office,” he said. “In other words, it’ll really set the stage for this presidency and other presidencies (and) set a standard that we expect government to follow.”

Former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, currently president of the University of Miami, are co-chairing the committee.
Other commission members are:

-- Marc Giammatteo, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and former Army captain whose leg was severely injured during a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq in 2004. Giammatteo has undergone more than 30 surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and served as an unofficial patient advocate at the hospital from 2004 to 2006. He currently is a student at Harvard Business School.

-- Jose Ramos, a former Navy petty officer 3rd class who lost an arm in combat during his second deployment to Iraq. Ramos, who previously served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, was a hospital corpsman who treated soldiers wounded in Iraq. He is currently a student at George Mason University.

-- Tammy Edwards, whose husband, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Edwards, was severely burned in Iraq when a 500-pound bomb exploded under his vehicle. Since his injury, she has provided support for families of wounded veterans in her community of Cibolo, Texas. She is a research assistant at The Geneva Foundation.

-- Kenneth Fisher, chairman and chief executive officer of Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that constructs homes for families of hospitalized military members and veterans. Fisher Houses serve 8,500 families a year at little or no cost.

-- C. Martin Harris, chief information officer and chairman of information technology at the Cleveland Clinic and a practicing physician since 1987. He has served on government and private-sector commissions that have addressed health care interoperability issues.

-- Edward Eckenhoff, president and CEO of the National Rehabilitation Hospital and a member of the District of Columbia Hospital Association Board of Directors who is an innovator in the field of rehabilitation medicine.

-- Gail Wilensky, an economist and senior fellow at Project Hope, an international health education foundation who also serves as co-chair of DoD’s Task Force on Future Health Care.

Bush praised the qualifications and commitment of the commission members. “We’ve got compassionate people who all care about whether or not our government is fulfilling its responsibility to make sure our health care systems … are meeting our obligations,” he said.

As the commission conducts its review, DoD and the VA also are working to improve the way their agencies serve wounded warriors.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has formed an independent review group to assess outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center. The group held its first meeting March 1 and will report on its initial findings early next month.

“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 told reporters during a Pentagon roundtable last week.

Gates told reporters he also has ordered acting Army Secretary Pete Geren to report to him later this month about the service’s action plan to fix the outpatient situation at Walter Reed.

In addition, said he tasked David S.C. Chu, defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, and Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, to conduct a comprehensive review of all medical care programs, facilities and procedures departmentwide to ensure DoD is providing servicemembers the standard of care they deserve. “I have told them that resources will not be an issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson established a new interagency task force at Bush’s direction to examine the processes for combat veterans seeking services and benefits from the VA and other federal agencies.

VA established a Web site that allows active-duty servicemembers, veterans, family members and others to provide input about their experiences to the task force.

"As the task force moves forward in studying how we can enhance services and cut red tape, we believe it’s important to provide veterans, their family members and others with the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences," Nicholson said.

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