Outside editorial: Needing a cure for Walter Reed

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

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It has been five months since an investigation by The Post exposed squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and federal policy-makers now have no shortage of good advice on how to fix the bloat, inefficiency and indifference of the military health-care system. The latest came last week from the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, a panel headed by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services secretary Donna E. Shalala, which examined the entire system of health care and benefits that should serve seriously injured soldiers. That follows at least five other major studies released since March.

Still, not nearly enough has been done to fix the system. Some of Walter Reed's facilities have been repaired, but fresh paint at the base's outpatient buildings will not repair the confusing bureaucratic mess that wounded soldiers must face when they get home. President Bush must push through major reforms soon.

Headlining the presidential commission's report is a recommendation to assign each seriously injured service member a single "recovery coordinator" who will guide him or her through the process of receiving care and obtaining benefits. The commission also echoed an earlier Institute of Medicine report by calling for compensation for lost quality of life, not just lost income.

Some critical questions remain unanswered: How can the VA reliably quantify loss of "quality of life," for example? Even so, Bush should be seeking to urgently enact significant reforms such as those in the commission's report, so that no more veterans have to face the broken system in place now. After jogging with two wounded soldiers Wednesday afternoon, the president called on Congress to act on the report and said that he had instructed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson "to look at every one of these recommendations, to take them seriously and to implement them." We hope that happens, and quickly.

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