- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

President Bush yesterday visited wounded troops and embattled doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, apologizing for “bureaucratic and administrative failures” that caused poor conditions at the facility, and he pledged to fix them.

The president said he was “disturbed” by reports of moldy walls and rats at one of the facility’s buildings, especially because it houses some of the most severely injured troops returning from Iraq.

“I apologize for what they went through, and we’re going to fix the problem,” the president said at the end of his more than two-hour visit, on which he hand-delivered 10 Purple Hearts.

Mr. Bush did emphasize that problems identified at the renowned center were not about medical care.

“Americans must understand that the problems recently uncovered at Walter Reed were not the problems of medical care. The quality of care at this fantastic facility is great, and it needs to remain that way,” Mr. Bush said.

He toured the main hospital and Abrams Hall, where he stopped off at the physical therapy wing and visited with troops who lost limbs in the war. There, he shook hands with Lt. Scott Quilty, who has a prosthetic right hand, as well as another who had been fitted with a mechanical hand.

The president also met with Sgt. David Gardner, 28, of Fort Bragg, N.C., his wife, Beverly, and their 8-week-old daughter, Hailey. Mrs. Gardner told the president that the baby was born three days before Sgt. Gardner regained consciousness after losing his right leg and suffering severe damage to his left leg. The soldier was run over by a Bobcat earthmoving machine in Iraq when his unit came under sniper fire.

Mr. Bush greeted him, “How you doing, buddy?” The two smiled when Sgt. Gardner showed the president a baseball cap with the initials “ROIA” stitched across the front. He said it stood for “Ran Over In Action.”

After his stop in the wing, Mr. Bush, flanked by soldiers in camouflage fatigues and doctors in white medical coats, delivered what amounted to a pep talk to the facility’s staff.

“The soldiers and Marines stay here only for a few months, but the compassion they receive here stays with them for a lifetime,” Mr. Bush said.

Defending the medical staff, the president said, “The problems at Walter Reed were caused by bureaucratic and administrative failures. … The system failed you and it failed our troops, and we’re going to fix it.”

Democrats criticized Mr. Bush, with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean calling the visit nothing more than a “photo op.”

“It’s good to see the president finally getting out of the White House, but he still fails to realize that our brave troops and veterans require real leadership that addresses the needs of our wounded men and women in uniform,” he said.

Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, also said the president was failing veterans.

“Walter Reed is not a photo op,” Mr. Muller said. “Walter Reed is still broken. The [Department of Defense] health care system is still broken. … Our troops need their commander in chief to start working harder for them.”

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