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Panetta Dedicates New Bethesda Military Medical Center

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 10, 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta presided over the opening of what he called “a 21st-century place of miracles” here today.

Panetta cut the ribbon of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The hospital is the result of the merging of the now-closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center.

“This place performs miracles, it saves lives,” Panetta said of the Bethesda medical facility. “And it renews life for the future.”

The hospital honors Army Maj. Walter Reed, a pioneering bacteriologist and one of the men who found that mosquitoes were the disease vector for yellow fever. It also continues the world-class care that the Bethesda Naval facility has provided since it was founded during World War II.

The combined hospital is a place of healing and miracles, Panetta said. It will service more than 1 million patients from those severely wounded in the nation’s wars, to military families to retirees.

Military personnel deserve a health care system second to none, the secretary said.

“Since 9-11, nearly 47,000 Americans have been wounded in action,” Panetta said. “Many have been dealing bravely with many grievous injuries. At the same time, their brothers and sisters in arms have also been battling cancer, degenerative diseases of one kind or another, psychological challenges of one kind or another.

“Our nation’s wounded, our nation’s ill, our nation’s injured show remarkable fortitude and strength in the face of some huge obstacles,” he continued. “They want nothing more … than to recover and rejoin their units and chart a new path of life in service to this country. In their spirit, we see the very best our country has to offer.”

Since the terrorist attacks on America a decade ago, military medicine has “modernized and expanded,” Panetta said, and in some cases “established innovative new capabilities for those in need.”

The new Walter Reed hospital, he said, has the latest equipment, the best facilities, and some of the most-innovative treatments. But it is the people, he added, who tend to those suffering, make the diagnoses, formulate the care plans, maintain the physical plant, cook the food, dispense the drugs and all the other things that make buildings places of healing that are most important.

The secretary said he knows that all will do their best for those who deserve so much.

“If our military can be judged on how well we fight our nation’s wars then our national character can be judged by how well we treat those who fight for us,” he said.

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act mandated the merging of the hospitals. The facility in Bethesda is a tri-service facility staffed by Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. The commander is Navy Dr. (Rear Adm.) Alton L. Stocks.

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