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Review urges Walter Reed closure
Newsday/Washington Post
April 15, 2007

WASHINGTON - A top-level review panel appointed by the Pentagon has concluded that Walter Reed Army Medical Center should be closed as soon as possible, following revelations of poor care that the panel blamed on a "perfect storm" of failed leadership, flawed policies and overwhelming casualties.

In a preliminary report released last week, the panel recommended accelerating the closure of the hospital in northwest Washington. Under decisions made two years ago, the hospital's facilities already were due to move to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., by 2011.

A faster move could mean speeding up or waiving an environmental review and releasing money to break ground on a $2-billion expansion plan at Bethesda, according to the draft report from the Independent Review Group. Construction of a larger Army hospital at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia also should be expedited, the report said.

The Navy is preparing a draft environmental study for the Bethesda plan, which would include a large addition on the north side of the hospital building and tower. "It needs to be built, and it needs to be built as quickly as possible," said review panel member John Schwarz, a physician and former Republican congressman from Michigan. "The environmental impact study should be waived."

Such a move could inflame neighbors of the sprawling campus, who are counting on an environmental review to assess the effects of added traffic. And it would run counter to efforts in Congress to stave off Walter Reed's closure.

Even as they urged a speedy shutdown, members of the Pentagon group called for the immediate investment of hundreds of millions of dollars at Walter Reed for short-term infrastructure improvements and to address shortages of nurses and other medical personnel.

"Keep Walter Reed going fully funded - no dying on the vine - right up to the moment they are ready to turn the key" at Bethesda, said co-chairman John Marsh, secretary of the Army under President Ronald Reagan.

Gates established the nine-member review board after The Washington Post reported in February about decrepit conditions at some Walter Reed facilities and shoddy outpatient treatment of wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Panel members warned that the problems with the physical evaluation of wounded soldiers extend beyond Walter Reed. "We have reason to believe that some of the problems we found are systemic," Marsh said.

The Independent Review Group is scheduled to deliver its final recommendations to Gates sometime this week.

Original Text