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American Forces Press Service

Bush Vows to Ensure Troops Get Medical Care They Deserve

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2007 – Saying America’s men and women in uniform deserve the best medical support system possible, President Bush assured them today he’s committed to making sure they get it.

Bush, speaking after touring facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, said he was disturbed by the stories he heard from some of the soldiers he met. The visit was the president’s first since news of the facilities’ problems came to light.

None of the issues uncovered had anything to do with the medical care troops are receiving, Bush said, but rather were the result of a bureaucracy that failed them.

“It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear our uniform and not get the best possible care,” he said. “I apologize for what they went through, and we're going to fix the problem. That's exactly what this government is going to do.”

These fixes are already in the works, with leadership changes, the transfer of patients at Walter Reed to better living facilities and the formation of task forces to address systemic problems, he noted.

Bush cited an important first step, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates insisting on accountability within the military command and making leadership changes. “He made tough decisions because he, like me, demands results,” the president said.

Bush welcomed Army Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, Walter Reed's new commander, and Brig. Gen. Michael Tucker, its new deputy commander. He noted that Tucker isn’t a doctor, but rather is “a bureaucracy-buster.”

“His job is to make sure that the bureaucracy does not get in the way of making sure every soldier, Marine and their families get the best possible care,” the president said.

As a positive step in that direction, Bush noted that Building 18, Walter Reed’s most notorious facility, has been closed for much-needed repairs, including a new roof. The patients who were living there have been transferred to Abrams Hall, where they report high-quality conditions, he said.

In addition, three working groups have been formed to help address problems that may exist and may arise:

-- An independent review group formed by Gates is examining conditions at Walter Reed and the National Naval Center in Bethesda, Md., and will recommend ways to improve the medical care they provide. This group will consider, among other issues, what new equipment is needed. “We want to be on the leading edge of technology, not the trailing edge,” Bush said.

-- An interagency task force, led by Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson, will identify potential gaps in the services wounded troops receive as they return from the battlefield. “In other words, we want all hands on deck here at the federal level to make sure that health care is as good as it possibly can be,” Bush said. “I'm not talking about the health care in the operating room, I'm talking about the bureaucracies that may prevent good health care from being delivered.”

-- A bipartisan presidential commission, co-chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, is conducting a comprehensive review of the entire system for providing physical and emotional care to troops injured in this war. “They will make sure that that person gets high-quality care from the time they suffer their wounds, through their return to civilian life,” Bush said. This will help smooth a wounded warrior’s transfer from the DoD to the VA system and help prevent bureaucratic delays or other obstacles.

Bush thanked the people working to improve the military medical system and said he looks forward to hearing the task forces’ recommendations so he can act on them.

“I want to make sure our military families can be assured that their loved ones will get the very best,” he said.

The president acknowledged that the military health-care system is large and complex.

“Yet, there's nothing complex about what we owe our troops,” he said. “We owe them the best.”

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