- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senators vowed yesterday to consider all options to fix a broken system of caring for wounded troops as President Bush said former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala will lead the administration’s investigation into problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“The war in Iraq has divided our nation, but the cause of supporting our troops unites us,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “We will do everything we can possibly do — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as grateful Americans — to care for those who have served our nation with such honor and distinction.”

As his panel questioned top defense officials, Mr. Levin also used the revelations of bad conditions and outpatient care at Walter Reed to take a swipe at Mr. Bush’s war polices.

“Today’s hearing is about another example of the lack of planning for a war that was premised on the assumption that combat operations would be swift, casualties would be minimal, and that we would be welcomed as liberators, instead of being attacked by the people we liberated,” he said.

Mr. Levin’s panel convened the second congressional hearing in two days regarding the poor conditions at Walter Reed. Reports of wounded troops battling excessive red tape and dilapidated living conditions have enraged Republicans and Democrats, who say they are worried that problems at Walter Reed point to a broader problem of neglect across the nation at military hospitals.

Mr. Bush made his announcement in a speech to an American Legion audience in which he emphasized choosing people from both parties to head the White House probe.

“We have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who served our country,” he said. “They deserve it and they’re going to get it.”

Mr. Dole was a longtime Republican senator from Kansas and one-time presidential candidate. Miss Shalala headed the Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration.

At yesterday’s Senate hearing, David Chu, the personnel chief at the Pentagon, also promised action.

“I’m deeply chagrined by the events that bring us to this hearing this morning,” he said.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Congress in the coming weeks will consider whether legislation or additional resources are needed.

“I am dismayed this ever occurred,” said Mr. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who was wounded and captured during the Vietnam War. “It was a failure in the most basic tenets of command responsibility to take care of our troops.”

Army officials said they accept responsibility but denied knowing about most of the problems.

“As we’ve seen, in the last couple of weeks, we have failed to meet our own standards at Walter Reed. For that, I’m both personally and professionally sorry,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who was in charge of Walter Reed from 2000 until 2004, when he became Army surgeon general.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said Congress might need to revisit a decision to close Walter Reed in light of the increasing number of wounded troops from Iraq.


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