United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that injured American troops should not have to battle outpatient bureaucracy to receive adequate medical treatment once they return home from war. Secretary Gates spoke at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Gates did not fault the medical personnel giving treatment, but rather said dedicated caseworkers are overwhelmed with work and work nights and weekends trying to keep up with the caseload. Gates made his comments after viewing repairs at the outpatient facility building 18, which had been in the news for maintenance and administrative problems. His comments were reported in a news release by the Armed Forces Press Service on the official website of the Defense Department, www.defenselink.mil.
“Like many Americans I was dismayed to learn this past week that some of our injured troops were not getting the best possible treatment at all stages of their treatment, in particularly their outpatient care,” Gates said. “This is unacceptable, and it will not continue.”
Gates said it is a good thing the problems have come to light, but bad they did not become apparent sooner.
The Defense Secretary said troops who put their lives on the line against a foreign enemey should “not have to battle American bureaucracy.” He noted complaints involving outpatient care of poor living conditions, uncompleted maintenance work orders, and mix-ups and delays in personnel and recordkeeping systems.
According to Gates, an independent review group will review all the administrative and rehabilitative processes at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Its report will be issued in 45 days. Free and unrestricted access to the facilities will be given to the review group, according to the Defense Secretary.
The secretaries of the navy and army and the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs will receive a copy of the report the group will make. The findings will also be made public.
Secretary Gates said if that is necessary, personnel actions will be taken against anyone found to be causing a problem that might be causing troops to have to battle bureaucracy to receive treatment.
The Defense Secretary said military commanders have been given the authority and resources to complete their mission. He said responsibility comes with accountability. He said the Department of Defense should have accountability at all levels. He said once the facts are known, those responsible for the problem will be held accountable.
The Defense Secretary said troops should “not have to recuperate in substandard housing, nor should they be expected to tackle mounds of paperwork and bureaucratic processes during this period for themselves and their families.”
Gates said some lower level official responsible for the bureaucracy troops have had to battle have been relieved of duty. He did not identify them.
According to Army Surgeon General Lt. General Dr. Kevin C. Kiley most maintenance issues at the hospital will be solved this week. Kiley also said the building will be entirely renovated, including the heating and air conditioning systems. When this will be done has not been determined, because soldiers will have to be moved, and officials want their lives to not be disrupted more than necessary.
The rooms in building 18 are apartment-style, with two bedrooms, a common kitchen area, and bath. There is a microwave oven and refrigerator in each apartment. The building houses 76 but can house up to 106.