Surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center
A medical team performs three-dimensional minimally invasive surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., March 23, 2007.

WASHINGTON, (Army News Service, June 22, 2011) -- Many of about 430 wounded warriors, along with their family members and staff, came out today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to hear about their upcoming move to one of two refurbished medical centers in the National Capital Region.

During the weekends of August 12 and 19, patients now at Walter Reed will move to either the newly named Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., or the new Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.

The existing WRAMC, which has been active since 1909, will close its doors Sept. 15. Some of the 113 acres of that facility will be transferred to the Department of State; the rest will go to the District of Columbia.

The new names of the medical campuses will become effective when the last patient is transferred from the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Walter Reed Bethesda.

"We (have been) planning, training and rehearsing to ensure patient safety and quality of care are maintained at the highest levels during transition," said Vice Adm. John Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force, National Capital Region Medical, on its website. "We will do everything we must for the wounded, ill and injured and all the beneficiaries that we are privileged to care for."

Also helping with the "town hall" at the medical center were Col. Jim Larsen, commander of Walter Reed's Warrior Transition Brigade; Brig. Gen. Steve Jones, deputy commander of Joint Task Force, National Capital Region Medical; and representatives from both medical campuses.

"We've been working on the process for three years," said Mateczun. "We've rehearsed this in table-top exercises and then we rehearsed the move on August 12 with ambulances and simulated moving of patients from here over to Bethesda. Then we'll have a more detailed practice before we actually do the move."

About $2.5 billion has been spent doing construction and outfitting for the two new hospitals.

"For the Bethesda campus, very large new buildings on either side of the tower, one's outpatient -- that's the largest outpatient building in the Military Health System. The other is one of the largest inpatient pavilions with 50 intensive patient care beds that sits against the inpatient tower now," Mateczun said.

In addition, at the Bethesda campus, three new parking garages will be ready to open about Aug. 1, wounded warrior lodging is going up, a new administration building is going up, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury is up and running, and three new Fisher Houses -- with 22 units -- are up and running.

One of the priorities of the Task Force is making sure that the wounded warriors have the capabilities and support they need.

"Over the last couple of months, we met with the vice chiefs from all of the services to make sure that we're not leaving any seams," Mateczun said. "They asked about the wounded warrior support programs from our services -- because you have the Warrior Transition Brigade, Wounded Warrior Regiment from the Marines, Safe Harbor from the Navy, Air Force's programs and we have to make sure they're able to cover all of the needs of the individuals at both of these locations."

The Joint Task Force funds the hospital care and also funds the lodging facilities at Bethesda. One-fourth of the entire inpatient military health service is done in the National Capital Region. In terms of the Warrior Transition Brigade and the Wounded Warrior Regiment, those are service-funded issues.

"The Bethesda medical center is where the most complex patients and rehabilitation go, so they'll be doing the prosthetics rehabilitation, for instance, the traumatic brain injuries, and if somebody is more ambulatory, than they don't need to be on that campus. So they'll get plenty of space and excellent care down at the Fort Belvoir hospital," Mateczun said.

Also, rather than being at one of the medical campuses, many Soldiers in the area are spread out in family housing at Fort Meade, for instance. If they need more than one appointment a week, they'll be at the medical center.

"When I visited Walter Reed Bethesda, I was shocked when I saw a 37-inch, flat screen TV that doubles as a computer monitor in the room, and the rooms at Bethesda. I thought I'm living in squalor compared to the rooms here," said Spc. Steven McDonald, who's been a patient at WRAMC for the past year after leaving Iraq with extensive injuries. While at the facility, he's endured multiple surgeries and a lot of physical therapy. And recently, he started the medical board process to determine if he's fit or unfit for duty.

McDonald and his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Nicholas B. Suhling, said the rooms at Bethesda are all designed to accommodate Soldiers in wheelchairs. This allows for wheelchairs to easily move through doorways. The showers allow for the patient to roll right in, all the toilets are accessible, and the sinks and mirrors are able to accommodate those in wheelchairs as well as those able to stand.

"I was very jealous that I wasn't there yet," said McDonald, who believes he might have to retire from the service because of his injuries. He was also able to see his regular doctors at Bethesda and was able to get his final surgery scheduled sooner, rather than waiting a month.

Suhling has been the squad leader with the Warrior Transition Brigade for the past year.

"Some guys are here for a couple of weeks. But I've had one guy who has been here since 2007. Some guys are just single amputees, some are double, triple, quadruple amps, some guys take a little bit longer to heal than others, and some are here for two, three, four, five years 'cause you can't get your head right," Suhling said.

Suhling is responsible for the health, welfare, and morale of multiple Warriors in Transition in medical treatment and rehabilitation status.

"I also give the Soldiers a chance to get away from the monotonous physical therapy and doctors' appointments they have every day by getting them out on fishing and hunting outings and showing them that even though they have disabilities there is still a life full of activities, new and old, that can be performed with their current disabilities," Suhling said.

He said he has guys who donate charter boats so six or seven guys can go out for some deep sea fishing. He has also taken patients up to Pennsylvania to hunt deer, wild turkey and black bear.

Asked if he enjoys this job, Suhling shares what he many never have to think about.

"Honestly, coming from the infantry, I would have loved to stay oblivious to the amount of carnage that war brings," he said. "I guess I was kind of ignorant to the fact that Walter Reed even existed, because when I went to Afghanistan and Iraq twice, I always thought you die or you don't get hurt. I never really thought about anything happening in between. I never really thought about losing a leg or an arm, but then I got here and everybody has lost a leg or an arm."

For more information on the Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, visit http://www.jtfcapmed.mil/wii-warriors/.

Page last updated Wed June 29th, 2011 at 10:08