Commission Urges Improvements to Servicemembers’ Care
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2007 A commission tasked to fix problems with wounded servicemembers’ care today presented a 29-page proposal to President Bush that suggests overhauling the disability-rating system and urges more attention be paid to returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from brain injuries. (Video)
In the wake of reports that servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here were receiving sub-par treatment, President Bush created the bi-partisan panel in March, citing a “moral obligation” to provide the best possible care to men and women in uniform.
Bush welcomed the recommendations at the Oval Office, where he received the draft report, calling the analysis an “extensive search” that highlights “important suggestions” for the best government response to the current system’s shortcomings.
“We owe a wounded solider the very best care and the very best benefits and the very easiest-to-understand system,” Bush said.
Today, the nine-member panel outlined six recommendations:
-- Create comprehensive health recovery plans and develop a corps of highly trained coordinators to help servicemembers transition back to military duty or civilian life every step of the way.
-- Simplify the way disabilities are determined and make the compensation system less confusing.
-- Improve the system for diagnosing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, and work to make servicemembers less vulnerable to these two signature ailments of the war on terror.
-- Significantly strengthen support for families.
-- Develop “My eBenefits,” a one-stop Web site and information source for servicemembers that combines Defense Department and Veterans Affairs databases.
-- Keep Walter Reed staffed with first-rate professionals until it closes in 2011.
“These are bold, innovative recommendations that are doable and can be acted upon quickly. Our motto is ‘Put patients and families first,’” said Donna Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services and current co-chair of Bush’s panel.
“The system should work for the patient, instead of the patient working for the system,” she added.
Shalala and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole chair the nine-member commission. Other members include two veterans wounded in Iraq, the wife of an Army staff sergeant wounded in Iraq, the chairman and chief executive officer of a nonprofit group that builds "comfort homes" for families of hospitalized military personnel and veterans, two leaders in the health care industry, and an expert on veterans affairs and military health care.
“Our injured servicemembers deserve a system that serves their different needs, supports them and their families while they recover, and simplifies the delivery of care and services,” Dole said. “We will not let these recommendations sit on a shelf. They need to be acted upon now to improve the quality of lives for our brave men and women and their families.”
The final commission report, including reports from subcommittees and survey findings, will be made available to the public by July 31.