- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

President Bush’s job-approval rating yesterday jumped to the highest level in six months as he made his fourth visit of the year to hospitalized troops, a group that Democrats accuse him of neglecting.

While at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, the president had his jogging-battered knees examined by doctors, who opted against surgery. He also visited Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was being treated for prostate cancer.

“I know I’m not supposed to get out of my lane and give medical reports, but I can report that Colin Powell received great health care here and he is doing very well,” Mr. Bush said.

The president praised the hospital’s director of physical therapy, Col. B.J. Mielcarek, whose staff is healing soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’ve just come from her department, where we saw some incredible work being done and some brave soldiers who are working hard to get to a hundred percent,” Mr. Bush said. “She’s been kind of looking after my body on occasion, too. Fortunately, she’s got a lot to work with.”

It was a reference to his 57-year-old knees, which underwent magnetic resonance imaging yesterday. Recent injuries have forced Mr. Bush to abandon his beloved regimen of jogging and take up less stressful workout activities, such as running in water and elliptical cross-training.

Mr. Bush spent most of his time visiting with soldiers, including some recovering from debilitating war wounds.

“I remember coming here a couple of months ago to pin the Purple Heart on a fellow who lost both legs and one arm,” he said. “Today, I saw him walking.”

He added: “Americans would be surprised to learn that a grievous injury, such as the loss of a limb, no longer means forced discharge. In other words, the medical care is so good and the recovery process is so technologically advanced that people are no longer forced out of the military.”

In recent months, Democrats and the press have groused that Mr. Bush does not attend the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. Historically, it is unusual for presidents to attend individual funerals of fallen troops, although they routinely visit the injured.

“Members of the Armed Forces are now serving in a great cause, serving in a historic time,” he said. “The peace and security of our fellow citizens depend upon their bravery and their willingness to serve.

“In so doing, our soldiers accept the dangers and the hardships that this cause sometimes requires,” he added. “I’m proud to be their commander in chief. I’m proud to lead such fine men and women who are willing to sacrifice for their country.”

When the president mentioned that several soldiers had expressed impatience at getting back to their units, military members in the audience nodded.

“We put a lot of fine troops into harm’s way to make this country more secure and the world more free and the world more peaceful,” he said. “We will provide excellent health care — excellent care — to anybody who is injured on the battlefield.”

As Mr. Bush was visiting the troops, Gallup was releasing a poll that shows his job-approval rating at 63 percent — the highest since mid-June. The number jumped seven points since the weekend, evidently reflecting public satisfaction with the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Shortly after the visit by the president, Mr. Powell was discharged and went home. The 66-year-old had his cancerous prostate gland removed on Monday.


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