The House has acted swiftly to deal with some of the shameful conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were discovered foundering in slum-like billets and bureaucratic neglect as outpatients. A measure creating a stronger system of case managers, counselors and advocates for the Army’s war-wounded received unanimous approval from angry lawmakers. But so far there has been no comparable action in the Senate.
There can be no higher home-front priority, as President Bush learned when news articles about the shameful state of the hospital embarrassed him into visiting Walter Reed recently to publicly apologize and promise to fix the problems. The House bill is a good start, particularly in its mandate to end the bureaucratic divisions between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs in managing the wars’ 25,000-plus wounded troops. The chaotic way that medical records are transferred from one to the other, for instance, is unconscionable.
Other worthy provisions would mandate more physicians for the system and a moratorium on outsourcing medical needs to private contractors. The measure also would wisely create an Army “wounded warriors battalion.” This is similar to the Marines’ version, which helps ensure that wounded men and women who need outpatient treatment don’t disappear from the sight of the military command, as happened at Walter Reed.
A presidential study commission is to report by midsummer on what is wrong with the medical care system for members of the armed forces. But the Senate should not wait to act on some of the obvious shortcomings already begging for repair, particularly with the flow of wounded men and women continuing unabated from the battlefields. Purging the chain of command of two generals and the Army secretary was a bromide solution compared with the visceral needs of those suffering the traumas of war abroad and at home.