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GOP Was Aware of Problems at Walter Reed and Did Nothing
Congressional Quarterly
By Seth Stern, CQ Staff
March 7, 2007

Senior Republicans who knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while their party controlled Congress insist they did all they could to prod the Pentagon to fix them.

But C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he stopped short of going public with the hospital's problems to avoid embarrassing the Army while it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Young and Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., the former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, both acknowledged in interviews that they were aware of patient care problems at Walter Reed long before The Washington Post exposed them two weeks ago.

At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Young detailed his efforts to assist patients at Walter Reed during visits he or his wife made to the hospital as early as 2003. He described repeatedly confronting the hospital's then commander, Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, about patients who, they discovered, had received poor care.

Young said his wife, Beverly, found one Walter Reed patient lying in his hospital bed without sheets or blankets, having soiled himself. Another, who suffered from a battlefield brain injury, had fallen out of his bed three times, even after Young had told Kiley about the problem, the lawmaker said. And he said a third patient, who had an aneurysm, died after a respiratory therapist ignored family warnings about the patient's fragile condition and treated him anyway.

"We got in Gen. Kiley's face on a regular basis," Young said, adding that he even contacted the commander of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in the hopes of getting better care there for the patient with the aneurysm, though doctors at Walter Reed declined to transfer him.

"What else do you want me to do? I am not going to go into a hospital and push my way into a medical situation," Young said after the hearing.

Young said he "separates my life as a member of Congress and the work I do on a volunteer basis," visiting military hospitals with his wife almost every week.

Young said he used his role as an appropriator to push to fund a new lab at Walter Reed and a new phone system at Fort Carson so patients could more easily make appointments.

But he said he purposely opted to bring concerns about individual patients' care privately to the attention of Walter Reed commanders, rather than wield his clout as an Appropriations subcommittee chairman.

"We did not go public with these concerns, because we did not want to undermine the confidence of the patients and their families and give the Army a black eye while fighting a war," Young said.

At the time, Young said, he believed "what I was dealing with was basically isolated cases, solder by soldier," rather than a systemic problem at the hospital.

Even now, Young said, he's not sure what more he could have done.

"Appropriations alone cannot solve all problems," he said. "It takes more. It takes skill, it takes experience, it takes determination, and it takes attitude."

He placed the blame for the hospital's substandard conditions on Kiley, who now serves as the Army's surgeon general, its top-ranking uniformed doctor. Young said he was not satisfied with Kiley's answers at the hearing Wednesday and predicted that he would be relieved of his post by the weekend.

"The rumor around the Capitol is they're keeping him here to take all the spears," Young said. Davis' Panel Aware Since 2004

Davis, the former chairman of the committee with responsibility for oversight of government programs, said his options also were limited. He said his committee staff first learned in 2004 about problems with wounded soldiers' health care while investigating their pay problems.

At a February 2005 hearing on care for wounded Army Guard and Reserve soldiers, Davis said, "I'm appalled that these men and women not only have had to face the recovery from their war wounds, but are simultaneously forced to navigate a confusing and seemingly uncaring system of benefits."

Davis said he directed the Government Accountability Office to conduct several studies, "some of them coming from complaints from veterans that were stationed" at Walter Reed.

Davis' committee staff aides fielded calls and attempted to help wounded soldiers and their families who called with complaints about pay and health care problems. At the committee's March 5 hearing at Walter Reed, Annette L. McLeod testified that only after calling Davis' office in 2006 did she make progress in getting proper care for her husband, Army National Guard Spec. Wendell W. McLeod Jr., who was injured while deployed in Iraq.

But Davis says he never pressed other committees or Republican leaders for legislation or new money to address problems his staff had identified.

"We are not appropriators. . . . I don't know what else we could have done," Davis said. "If generals don't go around and look at the barracks, how do you legislate that?"

Democrats Also Aware

Democrats said they did all they could while in the minority.

John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he sought appropriations to address problems he found during visits to military hospitals. For example, he obtained money for air conditioners for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and modern stretchers for a Baghdad field hospital.

Murtha focused blame for the Walter Reed scandal on the Bush administration and said the Pentagon discouraged patients from talking to lawmakers in both parties.

"My impression is that the military was constrained, even intimidated, from telling me and other congressional members about the real problems and the real needs," Murtha said.

Democrat Henry A. Waxman of California, who now chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, defended how his predecessor as chairman had handled the problems at Walter Reed.

"It isn't that Chairman Davis didn't ask them to account for it," Waxman said. "I don't think the problem is in our committee. The problem is in the Department of Defense."

John F. Tierney, D-Mass., the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, made a point to praise Davis and former subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., at the March 5 hearing at Walter Reed. "I want to thank those members for their leadership so far," Tierney said.

Army officials are scheduled to testify Thursday about Walter Reed before the House Armed Services Committee, while administration officials will appear before the Veterans' Affairs Committee, capping appearances at five congressional hearings this week.

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