When I was nominated to take this post just over three months ago, I said that the patriots who have volunteered to serve in our armed services have no equal in the world. I made a solemn commitment to the Congress, to the nation, and to you to keep the welfare of men and women in uniform uppermost in my mind at all times.
Like most Americans I was dismayed to hear reports about substandard outpatient care and facilities at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. When you join the military, you become part of a family, and it is unacceptable for any member of our family to be treated this way.
President Bush has since appointed a bi-partisan panel – the Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors – that will comprehensively review the treatment our government is providing recovering servicemen and women. The Independent Review Group I established will take a broad look at all of our rehabilitative care and administrative processes at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The latter effort has a very short deadline – next month – to make sure we identify additional flaws in the system and fix them as soon as possible.
This Department, however, will not wait for reports by outside panels before taking action on problems that we know about right now. To that end, the acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren has briefed me on the Army’s action plan to deal with Walter Reed outpatient care. I expect to receive progress reports every two weeks.
In addition, Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Dr. David Chu and Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder will undertake a comprehensive, department-wide review of military medical care programs, facilities, and procedures.
I have told the senior military and civilian leadership of this Department that money will not be an issue. After the war itself, we have no higher priority than caring properly for our wounded.
We empower leaders with the responsibility, authority, and resources necessary to carry out their mission. With that responsibility comes accountability. As we learn more about these issues, let me be clear: Any individual, regardless of rank – officer or enlisted, military or civilian – will be held accountable when servicemen and women are not treated as they should be.
You deserve no less, as do your families who also serve. It is the family that takes on extra duties at home while servicemen and women are away. The family also suffers when their loved one is injured in battle. And it is the family who is there every step of the way as their wounded soldier, sailor, airman or Marine undertakes what can be long and painful recovery.
The injured troops at Walter Reed and in other military hospitals have paid a high price for putting their lives on the line for America. Like you, they volunteered to serve knowing full well the risks and dangers involved. They deserve our respect and gratitude and the very best that our great country can provide. We owe this to them, and we must deliver. I am totally committed to doing so.
God bless you and your family.