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Medical Independent Review Group Seeks Comments

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2007 – The Independent Review Group recently established by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wants to hear from patients and family members about their experiences with military medical care, the review group announced today.

Gates established the group this month, charging it with identifying shortfalls in rehabilitative care and administrative processes at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and with recommending needed improvements.

To identify shortcomings and recommend improvements, it is important for the group to get input from patients and families who are dealing with the system, said Marianne Coates, public affairs officer for the Independent Review Group. The group will sponsor public meetings next week, and patients and family members can also submit comments through the Internet and a phone hotline, she said.

“The way we learn about it is, obviously, to talk to people who are experts, but very importantly we have to talk to patients and families,” Coates said.

The public meetings will be held at Walter Reed on March 13 and at the National Naval Medical Center on March 14. Locations for these meetings are the Joel Auditorium in Building 2 at Walter Reed and the Clark Auditorium, Building 10, in Bethesda. Both meetings will begin at 1:30 p.m. and end at 3 p.m.

The review group also is looking at the possibility of holding additional meetings for patients and families, Coates said.

Details about how patients and family members may offer comments at the meetings appear on the Independent Review Group’s Web site: www.ha.osd.mil/dhb/irg.

In addition, patients and family members may provide their experiences and insights via the Internet, and may do so anonymously if they choose. In the left column of the review group Web site, there is a caption titled “How You Can Help.” People can click on that caption and provide comments.

The independent review group also has arranged a hotline that may be accessed by dialing 1-866-268-2285.

Comments submitted via telephone also may be anonymous. When patients and family members use the telephone and Internet to provide their experiences and insights, Independent Review Group members or staff will not be on the line. Submissions, however, will be recorded and reviewed by the staff throughout the day. If the staff members determine that they need clarification regarding patient and family member comments, they will contact those who have provided contact information.

The two sources for providing information will be in operation for the duration of the Independent Review Group’s charter, until April 16.

The Independent Review Group will use these comments as a basis for seeking further details from the military services and for summary inclusion in their final report.

Coates emphasized that the review group, chaired by former Veterans Affairs Secretary and Army Secretary Togo West and former Army Secretary John O. Marsh, has hit the ground running. Group members have visited Walter Reed several times and have toured housing facilities there, she said. Also, group members visited Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to see how wounded troops arrive from overseas and how they are met, received and transported.

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