Walter Reed puts Congress in bipartisan "foul mood"

The poor conditions and bureaucratic mazes facing wounded soldiers and Marines at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center have sparked condemnation from Democratic and Republican lawmakers as they prepare for a hearing next Monday at the hospital.

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform national security subcommittee, with support from Republican Reps. Tom Davis (Va.) and Christopher Shays (Conn.), announced earlier this week that he would conduct a hearing at Walter Reed, located in northwest Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that some wounded soldiers and Marines lived in moldy and rodent-infested housing complexes, while others were financially strapped or physically harmed by bureaucratic inefficiency.

The anecdotes in the Post have spurred an array of responses from lawmakers, generating headlines in local newspapers. Several committees will hold hearings starting this week and several lawmakers, such as Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), created a veterans’ advisory board. 

Donnelly, who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee, told the South Bend Tribune yesterday that “Everybody’s in a very foul mood right now” with respect to the media accounts.

That includes Republicans. A day after the Washington Post story appeared on Feb. 20, Davis, the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to conduct a hearing at Walter Reed’s Mologne House, one of the outpatient buildings.

Davis noted past hearings he conducted as chairman that examined the medical care National Guardsmen and Reservists received. He said in his letter that “The investigative series that appeared in the Washington Post … is in part based on three years of work by our Committee’s investigative staff.”

Shays followed up with his own letter one day later, writing, “The conditions described, which included mold, rodent and insect infestation and dilapidated walls and ceilings, are outrageous and deserve swift remediation.”

He asked Waxman to “immediately schedule a hearing at Walter Reed to investigate the circumstances that led to the current conditions and conduct oversight of the repairs.”

The Oversight and Government Reform panel, the main investigative committee in the House, is stacked with partisans and freshman Democrats —Reps. John Yarmuth (Ky.), Bruce Braley (Iowa), Paul Hodes (N.H.) and Peter Welch (Vt.) — who ran on holding the Bush administration accountable.

Republican lawmakers on the panel include Reps. Dan Burton (Ind.), Kenny Marchant (Texas), Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) and Patrick McHenry (N.C.). 
 
While media accounts have noted that the Army has worked to improve the physical conditions at some of the residences and outpatient facilities, lawmakers have taken little comfort.

“You could put all of the wounded soldiers in the Ritz-Carlton and it wouldn’t fix the personnel, management and record-keeping problems that keep wounded Guard and Reserve soldiers languishing in outpatient limbo,” said David Marin, the Republican staff director on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.