- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Money woes and Pentagon neglect are to blame for shoddy outpatient conditions and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, an independent review has found.

The blistering report called for major changes in troop care and cautioned that problems probably extend to Army hospitals across the country.

“The American ethic is that America always takes care of its wounded,” said John O. “Jack” Marsh, Army secretary during the Reagan administration and co-chairman of the review. “We must make certain that America continues that ethic.”

Co-Chairman Togo D. West, secretary of the Army and Veterans Affairs under President Clinton, blasted the Pentagon’s “virtually incomprehensible” inattention to maintenance at Walter Reed as well as an “almost palpable disdain” for troop care.

The investigation, ordered two months ago by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, is the first Pentagon review since the disclosure of problems at Walter Reed, one of the premier facilities for treating those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Citing lapses in leadership and oversight as main reasons for the problems, the nine-member independent group concluded that the Defense Department was, or should have been, aware of the widespread problems but neglected them because they knew Walter Reed was slated for closure.

In addition, the Pentagon made problems worse by ordering restraints on costs and expenses — dubbed “efficiency wedges” — even as Walter Reed began experiencing an influx of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Leadership at Walter Reed should have been aware of poor living conditions and administrative hurdles and failed to place proper priority on solutions,” according to the report draft released yesterday.

The report said the Pentagon was ill-prepared to deal with growing numbers of troops suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

While making clear the problems lie with outpatient treatment, the report also faulted the Army’s complex disability ratings, which critics contend are manipulated to limit disability compensation to wounded soldiers. That issue is to be the subject of a joint hearing today of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees.

The review group, made up of former military officials and lawmakers, called for an overhaul of the disability ratings system.

It said the Pentagon should establish a “center of excellence” in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs that would be geared specifically for brain injury and post-traumatic stress cases, calling the U.S. “behind the curve” in its treatment.

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