- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Even though Walter Reed Army Medical Center is slated to close in five years, construction is expected to begin this spring on a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center for amputee soldiers.

The $10 million Military Amputee Training Center, originally expected to open last month, was caught in limbo during the Pentagon’s base-closing process.

Ground was broken in 2004, but construction had not begun as of May, when the Army ordered a hold on all projects that could be affected by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).

“We were too quick with the ceremonial groundbreaking,” Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Chris Augsburger said. “We hadn’t even awarded a contract.”

A waiver was granted in September to continue work on the project. A contractor should be selected for design and construction by the end of March, with construction to be completed in September 2007, Mr. Augsburger said.

Walter Reed officials expect the 30,000-square-foot addition to the military hospital to include a running track, climbing and rappelling wall, and virtual-reality center, as well as a military vehicle simulator to help some soldiers return to the battlefield.

It will combine new and existing counseling, and occupational and physical therapy services for amputees.

The amputee center now is considered temporary, to serve soldiers for five to seven years because of the BRAC decision, the Army Corps of Engineers said.

“Only the Defense Department could really have done this,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress.

The Democrat argued for months that the long-needed amputee center was a good reason to keep Walter Reed open. “This kind of cosmic change would stop any other agency from moving forward,” Mrs. Norton said.

Walter Reed is supposed to move to an expanded suburban military hospital in 2011 under the BRAC recommendations President Bush signed last year.

“The transitional center is necessary to provide the best possible care for our amputee patients in the five years between now and 2011, when Walter Reed is scheduled to move to Bethesda and merge some functions with the National Naval Medical Center,” Walter Reed officials said.

The federal government has expressed interest in taking over the Walter Reed campus.

Yet the expected $2 billion price tag for a new hospital facility in Bethesda likely will delay the closure of Walter Reed for many years, Mrs. Norton said.

“Congress is not going to appropriate money when it already has a working hospital,” she said, adding that the expanded amputee center is needed now. “We are simply talking about the need to accommodate many more seriously wounded Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers than anybody contemplated.”

Walter Reed has treated about 315 amputees from both combat areas, the hospital said.

Its services are available to nearly 3 million active-duty service members, family members and retirees.

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