Senate Democrats

Report: Bush Administration Slow to Help Returning Wounded Warriors

Yesterday, the General Accountability Office released a report detailing the continued failure of the Pentagon and Veterans Administration to take care of America’s wounded warriors. According to the GAO, “Many challenges remain, and critical questions remain unanswered. Among the challenges is how the efforts of the Army, which has the bulk of the returning service members needing medical care, will be coordinated with the broader efforts being undertaken by DOD and VA.” The report is another in a long list that has concluded the Bush Administration has left our wounded warriors behind.

Approximately Six Months After the Problems At Walter Reed Were Disclosed, The Bush Administration’s Response Has Been Slow Going. According to the press, a congressional oversight committee, discussing the GAO report at a hearing, founded the effort to reform the medical bureaucracy has itself become mired in bureaucracy. “After so many promises but so little progress, we need to see more concrete results,” said Rep. Thomas Davis, the ranking Republican on the panel. According to Davis, his staff hears “appalling stories” every week from soldiers dealing with the disability process, he said, adding that “they’re trapped in a system they don’t understand and that doesn’t understand them.” Rep. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the committee said, “The pace of change is frustratingly slow. Still the horror stories continue.” [Washington Post, 9/27/07]

  • Review Finds Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Bad Shape – Beset with Mold, Leaky Roofs and Rodents. “The Veterans Affairs’ vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says. The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”  [AP, 3/21/07]
  • President Bush Said There Would Be a Quick Response to Any Problems Found by Dole-Shalala Commission. “Any report of medical neglect will be taken seriously by this administration, I’m confident by the Congress, and we will address problems quickly. I’ve asked two of America’s fine public servants, Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, to chair a commission that will analyze our health care both at the Defense Department and at the Veterans Department, to ensure that not only our soldiers but their families have got complete confidence in the government’s upholding its responsibility to treat those who have been wounded… And I’m confident that this commission will bring forth the truth. And as I assured the chairmen, I am confident that there will be a quick response to any problems that you may find.” [Remarks by President Bush, 3/7/07]
  • After The Dole-Shalala Report Came Out, the White House Said President Bush Would Not Act Quickly on Dole-Shalala Recommendations. “White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Bush would not be acting immediately on any of the recommendations.” [Associated Press, 7/25/07]

The GAO Concluded the Army’s Plan for Improving Veterans Services Would Be Fraught With Problems. According the GAO, “The centerpiece of the Army’s effort is its Medical Action Plan, and the success of the plan hinges on staffing the newly-created Warrior Transition Units. Permanently filling these slots may prove difficult, and borrowing personnel from other units has been a temporary fix but it is not a long-term solution. The Army can look to the private sector for some skills, but it must compete for personnel in a civilian market that is vying for medical professionals with similar skills and training.” [General Accounting Office: Preliminary Observations on Efforts to Improve Health Care and Disability Evaluations for Returning Servicemembers, 9/26/07]

  • The Veterans Administration Has Been Slow In Improving their System For Evaluation of Recovering Soldiers. According to the press, “A slew of commissions and task forces have agreed that at the heart of the bureaucratic maze is a system in which the military services and the VA evaluate injured service members. The often-conflicting evaluations leave many recovering soldiers in limbo for months or even years.” When asked about a pilot program to establish a single joint system that was slated to begin August 1, deputy undersecretary of defense Michael Dominguez, testified the pilot program was approved this week but probably would not begin evaluating wounded soldiers until January. Rep. John Tierney responded, “We’re seven months into this process, and we’re just now getting off the ground? Why has it taken so long?” [Washington Post, 9/27/07]
  • In March, It Was Reported the Administration Shelved a Program to Ensure Seriously Wounded Vets Aren’t Lost in the Bureaucracy.  “A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties.” [ABC, 3/7/07]

Iraq War Veterans Continue to Face Long Delays in Receiving Disability Compensation. “Outgoing Secretary Jim Nicholson acknowledged yesterday that the Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling to reduce backlogs in disability claims from Iraq war veterans. Delays in processing disability payments reach up to 177 days, and Nicholson, in addressing Congress for a final time before stepping down Oct. 1, said the department has hired 1,100 new processors to cut that waiting time. Even with the new staffing, Nicholson told the House Veterans Affairs Committee, VA can hope to reduce delays