- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

3:44 p.m.

President Bush apologized today for the shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and promised during a visit to the facility for war veterans that “we’re going to fix the problem.”

Critics questioned the timing of Mr. Bush’s visit six weeks after poor conditions and neglect of veterans were exposed there.

Mr. Bush toured the main hospital and Abrams Hall, where soldiers were transferred after they were vacated from the facility’s Building 18, the site of moldy walls, rodent infestation and other problems that went unchecked until reported by the media. He said his conversations with those who had been in Building 18 left him “disturbed by their accounts.”

“The problems at Walter Reed were caused by bureaucratic and administrative failures,” the president told about 100 medical workers and patients at the hospital. “The system failed you and it failed our troops and we’re going to fix it.”

Among the areas of the hospital that Mr. Bush toured were a typical - but empty - patient room in Abrams Hall that featured a large wide-screen television and a Macintosh computer, and the physical therapy unit of the main hospital. Along the way, he awarded 10 Purple Hearts to soldiers recovering from serious wounds suffered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear the uniform and not get the best possible care,” the president said at the end of his more than two-hour visit, cut short from its planned length by almost an hour. “I apologize for what they went through and we’re going to fix the problem.”

He said important steps, including the replacement of military leadership in charge of the hospital and the establishment of several commissions to study the facility and the broader military health care system, have been taken already.

But, Mr. Bush added: “We’re not going to be satisfied until everyone gets the kind of care that their folks and families expect.”

The president devoted much of his brief statement to praising the medical care that members of the military and veterans receive at Walter Reed.

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