Addressing wounded veterans' needs

Published 8:47 pm Monday, March 12, 2007

By By Jo Bonner
Like most everyone else, I was extremely disappointed to learn of the living conditions in building 18 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Without question, our injured soldiers returning home from serving our country overseas deserve much better than what they were relegated to in this particular building.
Walter Reed is the largest and best-known military medical center in the world, and it is Congress's responsibility to exercise the oversight necessary to ensure that its world wide reputation as a first-class medical facility remains.
I was pleased to see that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has acted swiftly to address this issue. He visited Walter Reed and described the conditions as "unacceptable" and said those who were responsible would be held accountable.
Shortly thereafter, the Army relieved Major General George Weightman of his command at Walter Reed. The new commander is Major General Eric Schoomaker, who currently serves as commander of the Army's Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Secretary Gates has also accepted the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey.
Last week, the president created a bipartisan commission – the Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors – to determine whether similar problems exist at other military and VA hospitals.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala will serve as the commission's co-chairs.
This panel – whose remaining seven members are to be named by the president in the coming days – will conduct a comprehensive review of the conditions at all 154 U.S. military and veteran hospitals.
This issue is taking top priority in Congress where hearings on the conditions at Walter Reed began early last week.
The House Budget Committee, of which I am a member, held a hearing last week at which Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England testified that the conditions at Walter Reed are "unacceptable and will be fixed." He indicated that however deep the problem goes it will be fixed quickly.
We must be firmly committed to seeing that our wounded soldiers are provided with first-class medical care they so rightly deserve when they are wounded in the course of defending our freedom.
House Democrats Unveil Their War Funding Proposal
House Democratic leaders revealed their proposal last week for the $100 billion-plus Iraq War spending bill. The proposal includes a timeline that could lead to the redeployment of U.S. troops as early as this summer and no later than next.
The proposal sets August 2008 as the ultimate deadline for removing troops from combat in Iraq and requires the president to certify by July of this year that Iraqis are meeting key political benchmarks.
If those benchmarks are met, troops must begin immediate redeployment on March 1, 2008, and the withdrawal must be complete within 180 days. If it is not certified that progress was being made in Iraq on July 1, or October 1, the redeployment would have to begin immediately.
Directly following the announcement of this proposal, President Bush announced he would veto this legislation.
The Iraq War spending bill should be about just that – providing our troops on the ground the necessary resources to succeed in their mission. But the proposal presented last week adds so many strings to this funding that they have tied the hands of our military.
Republican Leader John Boehner said that a timeline for withdrawal would provide a "roadmap for terrorists," allowing them to wait for the troops to leave Iraq and then resume their attacks.
The proposal also includes billions in additional spending not related to the war, including: $4.3 billion for agriculture disaster relief, $1 billion for avian flu vaccines, $2.9 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery, $735 million in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, $400 million for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and $500 million for the Forest Service wildfire suppression activities.
While many of these are much needed projects, they do not belong in an emergency supplemental for our soldiers engaged in the War on Terror. We in Congress must work together to pass a clean, fiscally responsible supplemental that fully supports our troops.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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