Washington: President George W. Bush apologized on 30 March for the shoddy conditions at the flagship US Army hospital and promised during a visit to the facility for war veterans that “we’re going to fix the problem”.
Critics questioned the timing of Bush’s visit six weeks after poor conditions and neglect of veterans were exposed there.
Bush toured the main hospital at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and Abrams Hall, where soldiers were transferred after they were removed from the facility’s Building 18, where moldy walls, rodent infestation and other problems went unchecked until reported by the media. He said his conversations with those who had been in Building 18 left him “disturbed by their accounts”.
“The problems at Walter Reed were caused by bureaucratic and administrative failures,” the president told about 100 medical workers and patients at the hospital. “The system failed you and it failed our troops and we’re going to fix it.”
Among the areas of the hospital that Bush toured were a typical but empty patient room in Abrams Hall that featured a large wide-screen television and a Macintosh computer and the physical therapy unit of the main hospital. Along the way, he presented awards to soldiers recovering from serious wounds suffered in Afghanistan and Iraq
“It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear the uniform and not get the best possible care,” the president said at the end of his more than two-hour visit, cut short from its planned length by almost an hour. “I apologize for what they went through and we’re going to fix the problem.”
He said important steps, including the replacement of military leadership in charge of the hospital, have been taken already.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until everyone gets the kind of care that their folks and families expect,” Bush said.
The president, though, devoted much of his brief statement to praising the medical care veterans receive at Walter Reed.
“The soldiers and Marines stay here only for a few months, but the compassion they receive here stays with them for a lifetime,” Bush said. “Americans must understand that the problems recently uncovered at Walter Reed were not the problems of medical care.”