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Panel Salutes Fixes at Walter Reed, But Say More Needed Throughout Military

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2007 – While saluting the Army for its efforts to improve operations at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, co-chairs of an independent review panel also urged members of a House subcommittee yesterday to inquire about other military hospitals.

Former Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr., one of the panel’s co-chairs, told the military personnel subcommittee he believes the review panel’s work involving matters at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital encompassed “just a piece of the pie” regarding military health care.

Marsh invited subcommittee members to inquire about the status of military hospitals “at Fort Bragg, S.C., Fort Gordon, Ga., and at other places.”

The panel’s other co-chair, former Army Secretary Togo West Jr., echoed Marsh’s sentiments that the Defense Department and the Army have acted expeditiously to address concerns outlined in review group’s report.

“Some of things that provoked this investigation have now been moved out on by the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army,” West said. For example, Walter Reed staff shortages involving rehabilitative care and physical disability evaluations are being addressed.

However, much more work needs to be done, West said, especially with issues related to the treatment and long-term care for servicemembers who’ve experienced traumatic brain injury or developed post traumatic stress disorder.

Those issues, as well as the coming Base Realignment and Closure Act-mandated move of Walter Reed’s assets to Bethesda and physical disability evaluation processes are the “big issues that need our attention right now,” West said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates established the independent review group in March to identify rehabilitative care shortfalls and administrative snafus at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and to recommend needed improvements. The panel presented its findings in a 129-page report delivered to Gates on April 19

The report indicated that problems revealed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center indicate that similar issues exist at other military care facilities and highlighted a complex situation that Marsh said the Defense Department can’t solve alone.

“I was of the view then, and am of the view now, that some of the things that we’re discussing that apply to Walter Reed apply to other military hospitals in the United States,” Marsh told members of a House subcommittee yesterday.

“The other thing that we realize (is that) we’re dealing here with some mammoth bureaucracies,” Marsh continued. “We cannot solve this solely in the Department of Defense.”

For example, replacing military or government civilian employees at Walter Reed with contractors as part of the Office of Management and Budget’s effort to outsource many federal jobs -- known as the A-76 process -- contributed to staffing shortages and personnel turbulence at the hospital, Marsh pointed out.

“If you’re getting into A-76, you’re getting into a whole different field; you’re getting into OMB,” Marsh said, adding that addressing that issue “is a mammoth sort of task that you’re looking at.”

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