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Military hospitals set for overhaul

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Troops wounded in Iraq are ferried back to Andrews Air Force Base on the same flights from Germany, but once on the ground, they are usually sorted by service branch.

Soldiers are taken to the Army's Walter Reed hospital in the District, Marines to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

That system could change in the next few years as part of recently announced plans to close and consolidate military bases nationwide.

The Pentagon has recommended moving most of Walter Reed's medical services to a new 300-bed hospital at the National Naval Medical Center's Bethesda campus.

That facility likely would care for most of the troops badly wounded in overseas combat.

The new hospital is the largest piece of a growing concentration of military medicine in Maryland that could result from the base closure proposals.

Along with the hospital, the military would expand centers in the state that study the medical effects of biological and chemical warfare and infectious diseases.

Much of that growth would be placed on Maryland's Interstate 270 corridor, which includes major federal medical centers such as the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.

Most of the state's biotechnology companies are based in the region.

"This would turn that whole area into a world-class center of medicine and biomedical research," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat whose district includes the naval hospital and NIH, located across the street from each other.

As part of a plan to save up to $48.8 billion in the next 20 years, the Pentagon aims to close 33 major bases nationwide and move or consolidate hundreds of smaller facilities.

The military proposals will be reviewed by an independent commission, Congress and the president. A final decision on closures will be made in the fall.

Maryland fared well in the suggested reshuffling: The state would have a net gain of about 6,500 jobs if the Pentagon proposals were adopted.

Bases such as Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground would gain several thousand workers, mostly civilians and contractors.

Military medicine was a major focus of the latest round of base consolidations and closures, the first since 1995.

The Pentagon would create a medical center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas similar to the new Walter Reed facility. Smaller inpatient clinics at several bases nationwide would be closed.

The Pentagon plan also envisions a major expansion of the 253-acre naval medical center campus, located just south of the Capital Beltway in Bethesda.

The facility has a 450-bed hospital and about 5,000 military and civilian workers. Marines and Navy personnel wounded overseas are treated there, as are the president and members of Congress.

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences also is on the base.

The new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center would expand the base by adding a hospital that would treat combat casualties from all military branches, including soldiers who now go to Walter Reed in Washington.

Defense Department planners have identified possible sites on campus for the new hospital, said base spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.

It would mean a significant increase in personnel, many of whom would be transferred from the current Walter Reed facility. The number of workers at the base would grow by about 1,900.

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