Money woes and Pentagon neglect are to blame for shoddy outpatient conditions and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, an independent review has found. The blistering report calls for major changes in troop care.
The investigation, ordered two months ago by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is the first Pentagon review since the disclosure of problems at Walter Reed, one of the premier facilities for treating those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Citing lapses in leadership and oversight as main reasons for the problems, the nine-member independent group headed by two former Army secretaries, John "Jack" Marsh and Togo West, concluded that the Defense Department was, or should have been, aware of the widespread problems but neglected them because officials knew Walter Reed was slated for eventual closure.
In addition, the Pentagon made problems worse by ordering a hold-down on costs and expensesdubbed "efficiency wedges"even as Walter Reed began experiencing an influx of thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
''Leadership at Walter Reed should have been aware of poor living conditions and administrative hurdles and failed to place proper priority on solutions,'' according to the report draft released today.
The report also said the Pentagon was ill-prepared to deal with growing numbers of troops suffering from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.
President Bush has appointed a presidential commission chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, a Democrat, to improve veterans care. The commission holds its first public hearing on Saturday and is to release recommendations by late July.-- by the Associated Press