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Top Army Civilian Provides Update on Army Medical Actions

Today, April 10, the Army’s top civilian leader, Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, provided a written update to members of Congress and the Department of Defense on the status of corrective actions taken at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and throughout the Army medical system.

This status report follows:

Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The U.S. Army has made significant improvement in areas of infrastructure, leadership, and process. With regard to infrastructure, and as we reported earlier, all Soldiers who were living in Building 18 as outpatients have been moved to the Abrams Barracks on the Walter Reed compound. A team of building assessors contracted by the Baltimore District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is evaluating the long-term use of this facility. That same team is assessing other buildings on the Walter Reed post for life, safety, and fire issues. The group is expected to complete its assessment by next week and will prepare a written report by June 2007. The team remains in close communication with the garrison staff and International American Products (IAP) contractors. Also, we have completed information technology upgrades to provide telephone, internet, and cable television for all on-post lodging facilities.

With regard to leadership, a new team of combat veterans is now the backbone of the leadership for our warriors who are in a transitional status. We have added more than 130 military positions to the Warrior Transition Brigade that provides daily care and leadership for our transitioning Soldiers, and created new leadership posts for company commanders, first sergeants, and squad leaders. The NCO leader-to-led ratio at the platoon level will go from 1:55 to 1:12. This new leadership is working to ensure that Soldiers receive timely medical care, understand the next steps in the administrative processes and have an effective advocate working for them. The Warrior Transition Brigade will activate on April 25 and become 100 percent operational June 7. Just like in every unit in the Army, these Soldiers will have a full chain of command, starting at the squad leader level, to look after their health and welfare.

A weekly Newcomer’s Orientation has been developed to inform Soldiers and families of the programs available to them at WRAMC. This will ensure that Warriors and Families in Transition are well informed and their feedback is incorporated into improving processes. Two town hall meetings were conducted to identify the issues most important to Warriors in Transition and their families, and the WRAMC leadership has incorporated that feedback into our action plan. The town hall process is a success and it will continue.

Additionally, the WRAMC and Army leadership have implemented the following changes and/or improvements to help our Warriors and Families in Transition:

• Twenty eight new WRAMC case managers are on board and in training. This will reduce the case manager to patient ratio from 1:50 to 1:17.
• Our 1-800 hotline and database are operational and yielding results. By April 2, we received 656 calls detailing 394 distinct issues.
• We distributed a Family Member Hero Handbook and 1-800 Hotline cards to all medical hold and medical holdover Soldiers and families.
• We are establishing a Visual Automated Information System at WRAMC. The system will use 42-inch plasma screen televisions placed at 15 key locations throughout the WRAMC installation to disseminate community information, events, messages, and other hot topics.
• We have enhanced accessibility to the hospital dining facility and established meal cards marked with OIF/OEF to prevent Soldiers from losing their basic allowance for subsistence.
• The Clothing Issue Point at WRAMC opened March 23rd and has served approximately 50 Soldiers to date, ensuring they have the uniforms they need.
• We have assigned an emergency medical technician to be on-site at the Mologne House 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

With regard to improvements in administrative processes, most significant among the changes is the increase in the number of Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officers (PEBLO), lowering the PEBLO to patient ratio from 1:45 to 1:30. Additionally, the Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC) opened its doors March 23. The SFAC brings together family coordinators, personnel and finance experts, and representatives from several key support and advocacy organizations. These include the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, the Red Cross, Army Community Services, Army Emergency Relief, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). All of these organizations are in one location, providing one-stop service to our Soldiers and their families. The SFAC also houses Family Support Rooms to bring resources to transitioning warriors and their families in an atmosphere of healing and support.

Army Medical System Review. The momentum of other changes across the Army-wide medical system is significant and building. The Army will benefit from the findings of a number of independent review groups. The Army Tiger Team, stood up March 1, visited 11 installations across the United States and completed its work April 3. Army leadership will receive briefings on the findings and recommendations beginning next week.

An independent review group, appointed by Secretary of Defense Gates and headed by former Army Secretaries John Marsh and Togo West, will submit its report later this month and we look forward to its recommendations. Finally, the Dole-Shalala Commission, appointed by President Bush, will provide additional findings that will be valuable as we work to define further and address the challenges we face.

The Army is in the process of identifying and implementing initiatives to improve the cumbersome Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES). Specific initiatives include: facilitating the transition from Medical Evaluation Boards (MEB) to Physical Evaluation Boards (PEB); training of physicians, adjudicators, administrators, and legal advisors; establishing standard counseling packages and procedures; and ensuring better connectivity of the various automation systems that support the PDES. For example, we are reducing the number of forms that Soldiers have to complete, and transmitting documents electronically rather than through the mail. We have issued a military personnel message that clarifies how we are to process orders for Soldiers, eliminating the frustration of inconsistent processing. Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officers (PEBLO) have received additional training and many will attend a May training conference. For other issue areas, we are in the process of determining the manpower and funding requirements in order to address them within 60 days.

Transition of Medical Care from DOD to VA. Finally, we are committed to addressing the transition of patients from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs. This will require coordination among the DOD, VA, other federal agencies, and the Congress. For example, we are examining ways to minimize the number of physical examinations and repeat diagnostic testing for our transitioning warriors. We are also considering the option of collocating more of our facilities. We continue to work with the VA to ensure timely access to health records for VA providers. The Army looks forward to working with all stakeholders as we develop solutions to these and other matters.

In closing, Acting Secretary Geren expressed his gratitude to Congress for their attention and assured them that “Army leaders at every level would continue to work these issues internally, with the rest of the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Congress, with unsurpassed energy, until we have the medical system that our Warriors and families in transition deserve.”

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