- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bush administration has yet to find clear answers to some of the worst problems afflicting wounded warriors, investigators say.

A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released yesterday offers the first preliminary assessment of improvement efforts initiated by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs after revelations in February of shoddy outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The report found that even though the Army has touted creation of more personalized medical care units so wounded veterans don’t slip through the cracks, nearly half — or 46 percent — of returning service members who were eligible did not get service because of staffing shortages.

The report said that after 10 years of review, the Pentagon and VA remain far away from having a comprehensive system for sharing medical records as injured veterans move from facility to facility.

Despite months of review by no fewer than eight congressional committees, a presidential task force, a presidential commission and the Pentagon and VA, the government has no apparent solution for reducing severe delays of 177 days, on average, in providing disability payments.

“Many challenges remain, and critical questions remain unanswered,” GAO investigators John H. Pendleton and Daniel Bertoni wrote in calling for urgent action. “Success will ultimately depend on sustained attention, systematic oversight by DoD and VA, and sufficient resources.”

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said yesterday that officials were working diligently to provide “high-quality medical and mental health care for America’s soldiers and veterans.” The Army has said it hopes to have full staffing of its medical care units by January. The VA has said it was hiring 1,100 more processors to reduce backlogs.

Responding to delays in sharing medical records, Patrick Dunne, VA’s assistant secretary for policy and planning, said the VA and Pentagon had recently completed electronic sharing of veterans’ data involving allergies, outpatient medications, lab results and radiology. The two departments are using a contractor to study the feasibility and scope of sharing full inpatient records electronically, he said.

Rep. John F. Tierney, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs, said he was troubled by the lingering problems.

“Taking care of our wounded heroes is too important to not demand that we strive for the highest levels of care and respect,” he said.

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