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Letter To United States President George W. Bush


Location: Washington, DC

Letter To United States President George W. Bush

In Letter to Bush, Obama Raises Concerns Over VA Nominee

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today wrote a letter to President Bush expressing his concerns over the nomination of Brig. Gen. Michael Kussman to the position of Under Secretary for Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to a report published yesterday in Salon, Kussman oversaw the VA's Seamless Transition Task Force that found serious problems at Walter Reed as early as 2004 - yet it remains unclear whether Kussman and the task force acted aggressively to expose and rectify the problems.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to express my serious concerns over your nomination of Brig. Gen. Michael J. Kussman to the position of Under Secretary for Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). According to a recent story in the online newsmagazine Salon, Dr. Kussman knew of serious problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as early as 2004.

At the time, Dr. Kussman was co-chair of VA's Seamless Transition Task Force and oversaw a focus group study with wounded servicemembers and their family members. The report that was produced led to the following conclusion: "All of their comments reflect a lack of a clear documented process at Walter Reed for helping OIF/OEF servicemembers transition to VA." The report also stated that servicemembers were "frustrated, confused, sometimes angry" over their experiences at Walter Reed and that soldiers without family support were "depressed and sad and by themselves." And in some cases, according to the report, family members and soldiers felt that they had to apologize for needing help from the Army at Walter Reed.

If the servicemembers' comments in the focus group report were conveyed to top VA leaders as reported by Salon, then the question is why Dr. Kussman did not act more aggressively with the Defense Department to address these serious concerns.

Before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee considers Dr. Kussman's nomination, I ask that you direct VA Secretary James Nicholson to release all other reports, recommendations, briefings, and actions performed by the Seamless Transition Task Force. Members of the Committee should be able to assess:

* When VA first obtained this troubling information about bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed;

* What actions VA leaders took in 2004 to work with the DOD to streamline portions of the bureaucracy and assist servicemembers; and

* Whether Dr. Kussman and other top leaders at VA could have - and should have -intervened earlier and more aggressively to share this information within VA as well as with Defense Department officials in a joint effort to improve care for our returning service members and their families.

Before the Senate proceeds to confirm Dr. Kussman in this new role, we owe due diligence to our recovering servicemembers and veterans to get to the bottom of these serious allegations.

Barack Obama
United States Senator

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