WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 19, 2011) -- The transfer of Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s functions to Bethesda, Md., and a new hospital on Fort Belvoir, Va., is expected to finish on schedule, top military health care leaders said today.

Navy Vice Adm. John M. Mateczun, commander of Joint Task Force National Capital Region Medical, told Pentagon reporters that the consolidation and integration of military health care functions in the National Capital Region is well underway, with 9,400 medical personnel and patients expected to finish moving by the end of August.

Under the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005, the Department of Defense was required to combine four National Capital Region, or NCR, inpatient hospitals -- Walter Reed, Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Joint Base Andrews, Md. -- into two while, maintaining the same patient care capacity.

“This is the largest medical restructuring ever undertaken in the military health system,” Mateczun said, adding that military medical officials have focused on three things throughout the process: “One is quality of care -- all of the patient care that we’re providing. A particular patient population we’re always aware of are wounded, ill and injured (servicemembers). And then the capacity to take care of the wounded, ill and injured who are returning now from Iraq and Afghanistan as we do these moves.”

The new facility at Bethesda will include 345 medical-surgical beds, 50 intensive care unit beds and 20 operating rooms, while the expanded DeWitt will hold 120, 10 and 10, respectively, Mateczun said, adding that the numbers have been carefully studied.

The two facilities should have more than enough capacity to care for all combat casualties, as well as family members and veterans, Mateczun said, especially because military medical facilities nationwide and civilian TRICARE partners can take additional cases if the need should arise.

Of the 445 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, about a third will transition to DeWitt, while the other two-thirds will move to the
Bethesda campus, added Lt. Col. Larry Gunther, the Warrior Transition Brigade executive officer.

Both Bethesda and Belvoir have added and renovated barracks and lodging spaces for these servicemembers and their Families.

The Soldiers who will move to DeWitt are more ambulatory and need less specialized and intensive care, Mateczun explained. They may also have post-traumatic stress disorders, mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injuries and/or substance abuse problems, as the Fort Belvoir hospital is adding additional inpatient behavioral health and substance-abuse programs.

Servicemembers evacuated from theater and patients who need very specialized care for catastrophic injuries such as complex orthopedic trauma and open traumatic brain injuries will go to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center along with the specialized doctors and other medical professionals who care for them. Complex surgeries such as organ transplants will also occur at the Bethesda site.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which has served the nation for 102 years, will close its doors Sept. 15, although a ceremony to case the colors of all Walter Reed activities will take place July 27.

WRAMC commander Col. Norvell V. Coots pointed out that the history of the Walter Reed campus actually goes back much further, and that the Army recently found remnants of a Civil War battle that took place on the grounds. Miniballs, musket balls and even a West Point uniform button from the 1860s have been recovered from the 1864 battle of Fort Stephens.

“This is a national icon,” Coots said about Walter Reed. “The name is iconic and the name will … continue on. In fact, this next iteration will be closer to the original dream of Walter Reed.”