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Gates Says Committed to Fixing Walter Reed Problems, Praises Medical Staff

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged today on CBS's “Face the Nation” that he was “angered and offended” when he learned of problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but recognizes they don’t reflect on the hospital’s top-notch medical staff.

Gates said he learned about substandard living conditions for recovering troops at the facility in Washington Post articles and took immediate action to fix them. “I think I did something unheard of in this town,” he said. “I actually thanked the reporters for bringing it to our attention.”

Pentagon officials are now looking at the bureaucratic problems and the administrative issues associated with the hospital. “We’re acting, the Army has an action plan for dealing with the situation with outpatients at Walter Reed. I’m getting reports on that action plans implementation every two weeks, so we’re trying to stay very much on top of it,” the secretary said.

“Frankly, like everybody else I was both angered and offended by the fact that we had allowed a situation to develop that made the hospital administration … an adversary rather than an ally,” he said.

The problems at Walter Reed are not a reflection on the medical staff at the hospital, he said. “The doctors and nurses and staff at Walter Reed are the best in the world,” he said. “They’re immensely dedicated, they’re immensely talented, and we own a lot to them.”

Gates said he recognizes the dedication of servicemembers throughout the military, as well as the sacrifices they and their families are making. He said he writes personal letters to each family who has lost a loved one in Iraq.

“I feel a personal responsibility for each one of these men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” he said. “It’s a small gesture to the families that I personally am involved and that I personally very much care and have great sorrow over the sacrifice that their son or daughter or husband or wife have made.”

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