Stung by newspaper accounts of widespread administrative problems faced by wounded war veterans being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Pentagon announced late Tuesday the formation of an independent review group that will examine outpatient care and administrative processes at both Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
The effort will run parallel to and be complemented by probes announced Tuesday by the secretaries of the Army and Navy. Those efforts “have begun,” the Pentagon said.
But weekend stories in The Washington Post and on the Military Times web sites reported that many recovering vets were living in substandard conditions in overflow facilities outside the main Walter Reed campus in Washington, D.C., and facing miles of red tape while dealing with issues such as pay and benefits, lost records, medical evaluations and a lack of first-line supervisors.
Stung by the bad publicity, Kenneth Gomby, a Walter Reed spokesman, said “We never expected all these casualties returning home. We don’t have facilities for them, but we are issuing numbered slips as spaces become available. Meanwhile we are making them as comfortable as possible; giving them blankets, matches, supermarket carts…and asking the police not to hassle them off the streets.”
At the Pentagon, Colonel J. Livingston Pickett confirmed that a problem existed. ” When we started this war, we thought it would be over in a week or so, but the returning wounded are coming in so fast, that we can’t find space for them. We are rapidly buying up old Katrina homes, condemned buildings, abandoned trailer parks, and other available facilities that no one wants.
We hope to have accommodations by August for all those wounded vets.” Pickett added, ” The Bush administration reduced funding for the VA hospitals and….” Pickett looked around nervously,…” No, I better not say that!”