By Sgt. Sara Wood, American Forces Press ServiceMarch 29, 2007
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Motivated by its commitment to those who fight for freedom, the Army is acting quickly to fix problems with the medical system that have come to light since reports surfaced in February of poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, the Army's top civilian leader said March 12.
The reports in February highlighted shoddy facilities and failures of leadership at Walter Reed, but the scrutiny has revealed the larger problem of a disability system that is often complex and confusing, acting Army Secretary Pete Geren said in an address to the staff of Walter Reed.
The system has become overly bureaucratic and often stymies the best efforts of public servants trying to give wounded Soldiers the care they need, he said.
"A Soldier who fights the battle should not have to come home and fight the battle of bureaucracy," he said. "Motivated by this simple truth, our president, our Army and our nation are reacting with urgency and conviction, born of our profound gratitude to those who defend our freedom."
President George W. Bush has appointed a bipartisan presidential commission to review service members' health care, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates established an independent review group to assess outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Geren noted. The final solution will take time and interagency effort to fully implement, he said, but the Army is not waiting to make positive changes.
On March 11, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley resigned from his post as surgeon general of the Army, and Geren said he has directed an advisory board to begin looking for the new surgeon general immediately. In addition, a new commander and sergeant major took over at Walter Reed, and two combat-arms leaders are heading up the new Wounded Warrior Transition Brigade, to fight bureaucracy and ensure the care of Soldiers.
Army leaders have started improvements on facilities at Walter Reed, and have implemented a 24-hour hotline and one-stop assistance center for Soldiers and families, Geren said. On March 12, the Army released an inspector general report on the disability system, and leaders at all Army medical facilities will implement those findings, he added.
"We've made a good start, but much remains to be done," Geren said. "I share in your conviction that we will do whatever it takes to get it right."
Geren noted that although these recent problems have tarnished the reputation of the Army medical system, Army medical professionals still perform miracles every day and are known for the excellence of their work. Many of the Soldiers who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan would have died if not for advances in medical science and quality of care that the Army medical system has helped develop, he said.
"Every one of you could receive more compensation elsewhere, work shorter hours ... but you've chosen the Army; you've chosen to care for Soldiers and their families, and I thank you for that," Geren said to the staff members. "In a time when much of modern medicine has become all about business, Army medicine and those who practice it are all about people serving people."