Bush Breaks Ground for New Bethesda Military Medical Center
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 3, 2008 President Bush officially kicked off construction of the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center during a groundbreaking ceremony in Bethesda, Md., today. Video
“At this new center, the Americans who fight for our freedom will get the compassion and support that they deserve,” Bush said during his remarks before he picked up a ceremonial shovel to toss some earth.
Located on the campus of the present National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, the new 345-bed, 6.7 million-square-foot facility is slated to be completed in the fall of 2011. Established by recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act, the new facility will be staffed by Air Force, Army and Navy medical personnel and will merge operations of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., which is slated for closure, and the present Bethesda facility.
More than 60 years since the current Bethesda facility was established in the early years of World War II, America “is engaged in a very different battle for our freedom,” Bush said.
“In this new war, giving our troops the care they deserve requires cutting-edge medical facilities,” the president said. “And that is what this new medical center will provide.”
The quality of medical care provided to servicemembers at the current facilities at Bethesda and Walter Reed already is “extraordinary,” Bush said. The new facility, he said, will be even better.
“This new medical center will be a place of innovation,” Bush said, noting the new facility’s namesake, Army Maj. (Dr.) Walter Reed, discovered that infected mosquitoes were the transmitters of deadly yellow fever during his research in Cuba more than a century ago.
Reed’s discovery saved countless lives, Bush said, and the new Bethesda facility will continue Reed’s legacy of lifesaving research.
U.S. military doctors “are revolutionizing how we approach traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and amputee care,” Bush said, noting military medicine often sets the pace for the civilian sector.
“And when Bethesda and Walter Reed merge into one campus across from the National Institutes of Health, this will be the site of many more promising breakthroughs that will benefit not only our troops, but all mankind,” Bush predicted.
Like the current hospitals at Bethesda and Washington, the new Bethesda facility will be a place of compassion, Bush said.
“At Bethesda and Walter Reed, volunteers organize holiday celebrations, poker nights and field trips,” Bush noted.
School children from New York recently made pillows and wrote letters for soldiers recovering at Walter Reed, the president said. “The children wrote: ‘You are everyone’s hero; thank you for fighting for our freedom,’” Bush told the audience assembled for the groundbreaking ceremony.
Anyone who visits wounded warriors undergoing recovery at Bethesda or Walter Reed “cannot help being incredibly impressed by the courage and sacrifice of our troops,” Bush said.
Bush highlighted the personal strength demonstrated by Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott Lilley, who attended the groundbreaking. Lilly suffered a severe brain injury in Iraq after the detonation of an improvised explosive device, Bush said. The president recalled that Lilley visited him at the White House during the Fourth of July last year.
Gifted military doctors employed state-of-the-art technology and aggressive treatment “to get Scott better,” Bush said, noting that Lilley now drives a car and goes to baseball games.
“His doctor calls Scott’s recovery miraculous,” Bush said. “And thanks to the extraordinary care he received at Bethesda, as well as his own extraordinary resolve, he is now back on active duty in the Air Force. And, we’re glad you’re here.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who hosted the ceremony, saluted Bush’s dedication to wounded warriors, citing the president’s many visits to injured servicemembers recovering at Walter Reed, Bethesda and other facilities.
“President Bush, I know that you and your gracious wife, Laura, have made countless trips to Walter Reed, here at Bethesda and to other medical facilities around the country,” England said. “You spend hours at the bedsides of wounded warriors, providing strong encouragement and comfort to them and to their families during their difficult times.
“Over the last nearly eight years, you have shown time and time again that you are a man of great compassion,” England said of Bush, “and our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines know that their commander in chief cares deeply and very personally for their health, safety and well-being.
“No one has been a greater champion for the men and women of our armed forces,” England said.
England was accompanied to the groundbreaking by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. S. Ward Casscells and Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff.