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Presidential Panel On Miliatary And VA Care Gets Senator's Support

Location: Washington, DC


In this weekend's radio address, President Bush will announce the creation of a bipartisan panel to review the medical care of the nation's military and veterans hospitals. That step has the approval of U.S. Senator Larry Craig, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

"I support the President's call to action. Veterans who have been injured in combat deserve our best efforts and the best care," Craig said.

Much of the recent media attention on veterans' health care has been driven by reports of poor living conditions at the Army's Walter Reed Hospital and the medical care ABC news reporter Bob Woodruff received after sustaining a severe brain injury from a roadside blast in Iraq.

The Army has since made immediate repairs to the building where the servicemembers were living by fixing a broken elevator, removing mold and addressing other problems. In addition, the head of Walter Reed was relieved of command on Thursday and the Secretary of the Army resigned on Friday.

VA officials are also taking steps to improve the way they have been operating. On Tuesday VA announced that all Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans' receiving medical care will be screened for hidden traumatic brain injuries. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson also announced that his department is working to establish a panel of outside experts to review how the VA detects and treats brain injuries.

"I applaud Secretary Jim Nicholson for announcing these steps. VA hospitals have consistently been ranked as some of the best in the country. This new panel may be able to point out ways we can do things better," Craig said.

Last year VA treated more than 5.4 million patients, accounting for about 55 million outpatient visits and 600,000 hospitalizations. About 205,000 of the 630,000 veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to VA for health care, with fewer than 7,000 being hospitalized.

All combat veterans have access to free health care from VA for two years after their separation from service, bypassing rules that require determinations of service-connected injuries or income levels.

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