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American Forces Press Service

Bush, Commission Urge Congress to Fix Troop Health Care

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2007 – President Bush urged Congress today to pass legislation that will realize recommendations made by a bipartisan commission tasked to fix problems with wounded servicemembers’ care. Meanwhile, the group’s leaders are slated to testify on the matter before lawmakers.

At a White House news conference today, Bush urged Congress promptly to consider a legislation package he submitted yesterday “so that those injured while defending our freedom can get the quality care they deserve.”

In the wake of reports that troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here were receiving sub-par treatment, the president created the nine-member panel in March, citing a “moral obligation” to provide the best possible care to men and women in uniform. Joined yesterday by commission co-chairs Donna Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services, and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Bush endorsed the group’s comprehensive findings.

“My administration strongly supports the commission's recommendations,” Bush said during a news conference at the White House Rose Garden. “We've taken steps to implement them where we can through administrative action, and today we're sending Congress legislation to implement the recommendations that require legislative action.”

The Bush administration has implemented 90 percent of the recommendations outlined last summer in a 29-page proposal; the remaining 10 percent require congressional approval. According to a fact sheet published by the White House yesterday, the administration is working with lawmakers to fully implement suggestions from six categories:

-- Modernizing and improving the disability and compensation systems;

-- Aggressively preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury;

-- Significantly strengthening support for families;

-- Immediately creating comprehensive recovery plans to provide the right care and support at the right time in the right place;

-- Rapidly transferring patient information between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs; and

-- Strongly supporting Walter Reed by recruiting and retaining first-rate professionals through 2011.

Shalala and Dole today are expected to testify before Congress and implore lawmakers to further implement their panel’s recommendations beyond the limits of administrative action.

“More than anything else, Congress now … must modernize the disability system,” Shalala said during yesterday’s news conference. “It is old-fashioned; it doesn't reflect modern medicine; it's too slow; it's too confusing. We need a system in which any soldier, any sailor, any Marine, any member of their family understand it and can make it work.”

The former health and human services secretary said she shares Bush’s optimism that Congress will wholly endorse the panel’s recommendations. “Our commission members believe we can do it; the young Americans who have been injured, many of them severely, believe we can do it. And we must do it,” she said.

Dole said the mission of the commission -- which boasts four members who themselves are injured veterans -- transcends partisanship or political biases.

“Whatever your views may be on the war, we have one common view on taking care of those who are wounded or injured: whatever it takes,” he said.

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