Biden Calls for More Oversight on Walter Reed Hospital; Better Services and Treatment for Wounded Soldiers
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) is an original cosponsor of the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act (S. 713), legislation introduced this week that will ensure wounded service members receive the treatment, care and services they deserve.
"We have a sacred obligation to care for those we send into battle" said Senator Biden. "To have service members and their families living in such conditions is wrong and contrary to everything Americans value. As a former patient of Walter Reed, I know the unique challenges it faces but I was appalled to learn our soldiers were living this way. It is utterly inexcusable and we must ensure it never happens again. This legislation is the first step in fixing a broken outpatient and disability evaluation system."
This legislation - cosponsored with bill authors Senators Obama and McCaskill and 20 other Senators - will require improved facilities and robust inspections; reduce paperwork and eliminate red tape for recovering service members; provide improved counseling services for service members and their families; and improve support for families of recovering service members. The bill also provides for a Wounded Warrior Oversight Group to monitor the progress and make certain that our recovering service members receive the highest quality of care possible.
Sen. Biden also called on the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week to immediately move affected soldiers and their families into suitable quarters at Walter Reed or, if necessary, outside the hospital; ensure that case managers have contact with patients at least twice a week so that no one is "lost" in the system; and improve the training of case workers.
Specifically the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act will:
Ensure Safe, Clean Housing: The Washington Post revealed unacceptable living conditions for many outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the flagship military hospital, including moldy walls, broken elevators, and general disrepair in recovering service member barracks. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:
* Establishes standards for military outpatient housingincluding that outpatient dormitories must match the existing service standard for active-duty barracksand that repair requests must be completed within 15 days or alternate housing must be offered.
* Establishes a zero-tolerance policy for pest infestation.
* Creates an inspection regime to ensure high-level military officials are aware of problems at medical facilities.
* Requires an EMT and Crisis Counselor at all outpatient residences 24 hours a day.
Reduce Paperwork and Bureaucracy: It takes an average of 209 days for soldiers to go through the process of determining whether or not they can remain in the military and, if not, at what level of disability they will be assessed and discharged. This process is made more complicated with duplicative requirements, extensive paperwork, and inefficient case management. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:
* Brings the Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES) under one command to reduce bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary delays.
* Calls for injury-specific PDES procedures to allow the most severely injured service members to bypass unnecessary and lengthy steps.
* Requires that PDES system be available and accessible entirely online so that service members and case managers can more easily complete paperwork requirements.
* Requires a single location for PDES processing at hospitals that serve more than 100 recovering service members.
* Requires the Pentagon to identify and implement other ways to streamline PDES.
Improve Casework: Some caseworkers at Walter Reed have to care for 50 or more recovering soldiers, helping them schedule appointments, meet their everyday needs, and helping fill out paperwork. Military caseworkers are overwhelmed - as a result some service members falling through the cracks. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:
* Increases the number of caseworkers.
* Establishes an interim ratio of 1 caseworker and 1 supervising NCO for every 20 recovering service members.
* Requires that the Pentagon establish target ratios for each military treatment facility based on the conditions and needs of the patient population.
* Requires an evaluation of staff training and special focus on training for identification of mental illness and suicide prevention.
Care for Family Members: Family members often have to leave behind jobs to care for injured service members. If they are not beneficiaries, they often have to pay for their own medical care, and face confusing bureaucracy and inadequate support. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act: Provides federal protections for the jobs of family members who are caring for recovering service members, so they do not have to choose between caring for their loved one and keeping their job.
* Extends medical care to family members while they are living at military treatment facilities.
* Extends employment services to care-giving family members.
* Strengthens existing anonymous crisis counseling and respite services.
Increase Availability of Information and Assistance: Wounded troops and their families often have trouble understanding the bureaucratic process of getting care and determining whether they can stay in the military. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:
* Creates 2 new 24 hour bi-lingual hotlines (a crisis counseling hotline and a family assistance and respite hotline).
* Requires the creation of a single manual for outpatient care procedures, including PDES, family support, personnel processing and finance requirements and requires that it be made available online.
* Establishes an "ombudsman" for recovering service member outpatient care in each major medical command.
* Increases feedback outlets including requiring monthly town halls, and development of new anonymous feedback outlets.
Create an Oversight Board: One of the fundamental causes of the problems at Walter Reed was a lack of accountability. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:
* Creates a Wounded Warrior Oversight Board appointed by Congressional leadership that will oversee implementation of the act and serve as an advocate for recovering service members.