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Bush Visits Wounded in Texas, Salutes Their Courage

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2007 – President Bush today saluted wounded troops recovering at the Center for the Intrepid, in San Antonio, for their courage. (Video)

“The spirit of America is strong in facilities like this,” Bush told a group of servicemembers being treated at the center. “Our country is a remarkable country, that has produced men and women who volunteer to protect our nation in the face of danger.”

“And, there’s no better example of finding those type of citizens than right here,” the president said.

Wounded servicemembers undergoing rehabilitation at the Intrepid Center and at other medical facilities have demonstrated “incredible courage, love of country and resolve, Bush emphasized.

It was the president’s first visit to the state-of-the-art Intrepid Center, which opened Jan. 29. Located next to Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston, the Intrepid Center provides rehabilitation services for servicemembers recovering from amputations, severe burns, blindness and head trauma.

Bush said he’s thankful for “the instructors and preachers and volunteers who are helping these people get back on their feet” in the process of restarting their lives.

Construction of the $50 million center was funded by donations to the nonprofit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Two new Fisher Houses that accommodate visiting family members are adjacent to the 65,000-square-foot rehabilitation center.

The center was funded entirely by the contributions of more than 600,000 Americans, Bush said.

“The center is a tribute to the generosity of the American people,” Bush said. “Make no mistake about it, the American people support the men and women who wear our nation’s uniform.”

Servicemen and women undergoing treatment at the center “have borne the burdens of battle. They have kept our country safe,” Bush said.

“We honor them and their families by helping them with all we can,” the president said.

The center uses state-of-the-art medical technology in taking care of injured servicemembers and to provide them the opportunity to lead full and productive lives, he said.

“That’s the mission,” Bush said, noting the center features a pool, indoor running track, a prosthesis center, a climbing wall, and equipment that’s used to teach patients how to drive an automobile. Nearby Fisher House facilities provide onsite living accommodations for up to 57 visiting families, he said.

The Intrepid Center provides a level of medical care for wounded warriors “that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago,” Bush said.

Servicemembers being treated at the Intrepid Center and at other veterans’ care facilities “are focused on what they have left to give, rather on what they have lost,” Bush said.

Yet, although technology has advanced, the military’s medical care system for wounded troops needs to be modernized, the president said.

“We have an outdated system that can bog down some of those recovering in a maze of bureaucracy,” Bush said, adding that’s what had happened at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The doctors, nurses and other trained personnel at Walter Reed are some of the best in the world, Bush stressed.

Nonetheless, patient-care mistakes reportedly caused by bureaucratic delays and administrative failures at Walter Reed are simply unacceptable, the president said.

“It’s unacceptable to me as the commander in chief, it’s unacceptable to the families who deserve the best care, and it’s unacceptable to the American people,” Bush said.

The presidential commission formed to study military health care for wounded troops headed by retired Sen. Robert J. Dole and former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services chief Donna E. Shalala has submitted its recommendations, Bush noted.

Bush said he supports the commission’s recommendations “for modernizing and improving out system of care” for wounded warriors.

In the next several weeks the first federal recovery coordinators will be hired, Bush said, noting these trained specialists will guide seriously wounded servicemembers through their recuperation.

“We don’t want people to fall through the cracks of care,” Bush emphasized. “We don’t want people to be confused by the system.” It’s also paramount that families are “comfortable with the care that their loved one is receiving,” he said.

There’s also a pilot program to replace the two current disability assessment exams, one by the Defense Department, the other by the Department of Veterans Affairs, with just one, Bush said.

The purpose of switching to one comprehensive disability exam is “to analyze somebody to make sure that they get that what they’re entitled to quickly and without confusion,” Bush explained.

There’s also ongoing work to aggressively prevent and treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, the president reported, noting several technical experts have recently been hired. Hiring PTSD and TBI experts harnesses the best practices available to treat injured troops, Bush pointed out.

“The real purpose is to make sure that we help those coming out of combat to be able to adjust to real life as a civilian,” Bush said. The Defense Department also is working to ensure that the best health care professionals remain on duty at Walter Reed until the movement to a new facility in Bethesda, Md.

Tomorrow, the Department of Veterans Affairs will begin two studies that will help provide information needed to modernize the veterans’ disability care system.

Bush recalled running with Army Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge on the South Lawn of the White House in June. Bagge, an Oregon National Guard soldier, had lost both of his legs near Kirkuk, Iraq, in June 2005. When Bush visited Bagge at Brooke Army Medical Center on New Year’s Day 2006, the soldier said he wanted to run with the president some day.

Bush took Bagge up on his request. Thanks to his prosthetic running legs, Bagge was able to run with the president. The courage displayed by Bagge and other wounded warriors serves as inspiration to the American people, the president said.

“As the result of the courage of his heart, (Christian) came to run with the president at the White House,” Bush said. “Plus, he outran me.”

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Brooke Army Medical Center

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