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CBS Face The Nation-Transcript


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SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Senator Claire McCaskill, freshman senator from Missouri. She is joining us from St. Louis today. And, senator, we ask you, because you were one of the first senators, when this story broke about the trouble going on at Walter Reed hospital, to recognize the seriousness of what was happening. You moved quickly to try to introduce legislation. I just wanted to check in with you this morning to see what's been going on. How do you think things are moving on this?

Senator CLAIRE McCASKILL (Democrat, Missouri; Armed Services Committee): Well, I'm a little worried, Bob, because what happens in Washington when there's a scandal is everybody appoints a commission. The president has done a commission, and--and Secretary Gates has done a commission. And I'm sure all the people that will serve on those commissions are good people. But--but, you know, we need to act. You know, commission is just another way of delaying and--and contributing to the bureaucracy, and that's a huge part of the problem. This is going to take a lot more than a coat of paint on the walls of a--of, frankly, a bad motel, which Building 18 really is. I suggest that everyone in Washington spend some time talking to the soldiers at Walter Reed. That's what I've been doing, and it's very easy to see where the problems are. And frankly, some of this is just as simple as fixing a--a morass of paperwork that is freezing families into a level of stress. It just is unacceptable for our wounded and the people who love them.

SCHIEFFER: Well, so what should they do? Do we need to just get more people out there, assigned on temporary duty, to help these people? What would be some of the things you would suggest?

Sen. McCASKILL: Well, as we say in the bill--and a lot of the things that we do in the legislation that Senator Obama and I introduced, a lot of that can be done without legislation. But they need to combine the physical evaluation and the medical evaluation into one process. Right now you have two silos of
bureaucracies, and, as a wounded soldier tries to figure out where they're going to end up after they leave Walter Reed, they get caught up in this tangle. Those need to be combined, those bureaucracies. I had Sergeant Rutter, a wonderful man from Missouri, who lost both of his legs in Iraq, who's been at Walter Reed for 10 months. He told me that after the doctor signed his narrative summary, which is very important to these soldiers, it took the report two and a half weeks to go across the hall. Now, come on, we can do better than that. And--and they need more social workers,
they need more case workers, they need more legal advisers, and they need a change in the culture of command. General Kylie needs to be removed from his duties as surgeon general of the Army, because it's that culture of command. And by the way, General Kylie, I documented in the Armed Services hearing this week, he knew of these problems. He's known of them for several years, and he was in the position to do something about it, and he needs to change--he needs to go. We need a new commander over the medical command of the US Army, and a new culture of command.

SCHIEFFER: Now, one of the things we've found out over the past couple of weeks, that these problems go beyond Walter Reed. They go to some of the other military hospitals, and they also extend into the Veterans Administration, where we've seen the secretary of the Veterans Administration in at least two television appearances that I--I have seen him where he seemed
unfamiliar with the services that were being offered by his own agency. How serious is the problem there?

Sen. McCASKILL: Well, the Walter Reed syndrome spreads to other military hospitals around our country and also into the VA. And frankly, the VA is really a problem. The president has cut the budget in Veterans Administration for the past five years. In the budget that he just submitted to Congress, he went in the veterans' pockets for another $5 billion for the health care they were promised for free. And with all due respect to the head of the Veterans Administration, this is a man that was chairman of the Republican National Committee. The appearance isn't right. You know, this--this--this looks like a brownie situation. Let's put somebody...

SCHIEFFER: "Brownie" as in FEMA?

Sen. McCASKILL: As in FEMA. You know, this is a political appointment. This is somebody who has spent a whole lot of the last few years defending everything about the White House. Really, that's not the right person to be leading the agency that's supposed to protect our veterans. And I really think it's time we put somebody in charge of the Veterans Administration whose first priority are the veterans and not the politics surrounding the agency.

SCHIEFFER: Do you see the Congress moving as quickly as it ought to on this, senator? Because it seems to me--and you get a pass on this because you just got to Washington, you were elected in November--but it seems to me that some of the oversight committees should've been watching this a lot more closely than they did and should have identified some of these problems long ago.

Sen. McCASKILL: Well, there's a new day in Washington when it comes to oversight. In January of--of '06, the general accountability office testified three times in Congress. In January of '07, they testified 18 times. I think you're going to see a lot more oversight and accountability from this
Congress. But I think the--the biggest challenge, Bob, is making sure that senators and Congressmen don't lose interest when the headlines fade.


Sen. McCASKILL: This is about going back out to Walter Reed in six months. And by the way, I advise all the members of Congress to talk to the soldiers. That's our resource at Walter Reed, not the brass.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Thank you very much, senator. We are out of time, but thank you.

Sen. McCASKILL: Thank you very much, Bob.

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