- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. officials began their public campaign yesterday to keep open Walter Reed Army Medical Center but acknowledged the federal government has a strong case to close the historic hospital.

Defense officials say the government eventually would save $100 million a year by closing the hospital, so city officials and residents need a solid, unified plan to keep it open, said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative.

“We won’t keep it open by just pleading,” Mrs. Norton said yesterday after touring the hospital grounds with D.C. Counci member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, and other city officials. “We have to prove that the military value here is equal to the military value it would have if consolidated.”

The 113-acre facility in Northwest is one of 62 major bases the Pentagon last month recommended for either closing or realignment.

The final decision must be approved by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which will send its decision by Sept. 8 to President Bush. Congress must approve the president’s decision and cannot alter the proposal.

Mrs. Norton expects the commission to rule in favor of the Pentagon and said the city must be prepared for a closure.

She plans to visit Bolling Air Force Base, which is also slated for closing, and has scheduled a July 7 public hearing on the possible closings.

“The most important thing to remember is that the federal government is not just going to hand land over to the District,” said Mrs. Norton, adding that residents should expect a rigorous negotiation process. “The fight has only begun.”

Retired Gen. Lloyd “Fig” Newton, a BRAC commissioner, said the commission will not simply “rubber stamp” the Pentagon’s recommendation to close Walter Reed.

“The hospital is something of great importance that has been a part of us for a long period of time, and it’s something that people are very passionate about,” he said. “This is only one step in the process.”

If Walter Reed closes, a new hospital would be built at Fort Belvior and some of the Walter Reed staff and services would go to an expanded health care facility at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The facility would operate under the Walter Reed name.

Doug Payton, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who participated in yesterday’s tour, said residents are most concerned about what will replace the hospital and that the most frequent suggestion is to replace it with another hospital or a senior-citizen center.

“It’s the familiarity that makes [residents] feel comfortable,” he said.

Of the roughly 5,000 employees, about 69 percent are Maryland residents, 19 percent are D.C. residents and 10 percent commute from Virginia, Walter Reed spokesman Bill Swisher said.

Another 1,900 employees work at other units on the grounds, Mr. Swisher said.

More than 2,600 military personnel and 2,300 civilian workers would be transferred or lose their jobs. Hundreds of soldiers have been treated at Walter Reed for injuries they received during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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