- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

The House yesterday voted to keep Walter Reed Army Medical Center open despite military plans to close the facility by 2011.

An emergency spending bill passed by the House included an amendment prohibiting the use of federal funds to close Walter Reed, which is slated to shut down in 2011 as part of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan.

It marks the first time Congress has tried to reverse a decision made by the BRAC Commission. Congress and President Bush in 2005 approved the commission’s recommendations, including the decision to close Walter Reed.

In the BRAC plan, Walter Reed’s functions would be taken over by the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, which is scheduled to build a $2 billion expansion, and a new DeWitt Hospital at Fort Belvoir in southern Fairfax County.

But the future of the amendment is uncertain.

The Senate version of the funding bill, which passed the Appropriations Committee Thursday, does not include a measure to keep Walter Reed open, and Mr. Bush has announced he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk because of its limits on the war in Iraq.

But Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said Monday, “the president’s going to have to pass some bill” funding the war. He said he and other lawmakers were committed to making sure the Walter Reed amendment was present on any such spending bill in the House.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative, said the burden would be on the Senate to include a similar amendment.

“Having gotten it in over here, the Senate would be under huge pressure to explain why they’ve taken it out,” she said.

Mrs. Norton contends that putting Walter Reed on the list of military installations to be closed in 2011 contributed to the deterioration of care for wounded soldiers there. It is understaffed, she said, because it is doomed to close.

“Why would someone want to come to a hospital if they know it’s going to close?” she asked.

During the hearings into the subpar living conditions and bureaucratic roadblocks at the hospital, she asked top Army officials if that were the case.

“I asked whether or not putting Walter Reed on BRAC had contributed to the destabilization of Walter Reed,” she said. “We had three generals before us and I think they all said yes.”

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