Levin, McCain push Gates for investigation of vets’ retirement home

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are pressing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to initiate an independent investigation of the quality of healthcare at the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH).

In a letter, the two lawmakers told Gates they were “dismayed” to learn about quality of care at AFRH. Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the Government Accountability Office (GAO), expressed his concerns on the matter in a separate letter, which was read by Levin and McCain. AFRH has two campuses: one in Gulfport, Miss., which closed because of Hurricane Katrina, and another in Washington.

Among Walker’s chief concerns were: a rising number of resident deaths despite AFRH’s move to limit admissions to relatively healthy retirees; increases in rate of admission to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from AFRH, with a large proportion admitted directly to intensive care; and blood-, urine- and feces-spattered rooms of residents living independently, suggesting that they had been inappropriately placed.

In a letter directly addressed to Gates but also sent to several congressional committees, Walker said some residents admitted at Walter Reed had serious pressure sores and one resident was admitted with maggots in the wound. AFRH also failed to provide the proper care to a patient who had had a kidney transplant, resulting in hospitalization.

“GAO believes that these allegations should be examined because AFRH residents — a vulnerable population of elderly, enlisted, military retirees — may be at risk,” Walker wrote.

In addition, Levin and McCain said they received information from a volunteer at AFRH about poor maintenance there. The volunteer asserted that maintenance staff had been reduced to nine from 127, despite an increase in the number of residents.