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Congress Investigates Treatment of Wounded Troops

Lawmakers go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to hear about poor living conditions. President Bush creates a commission to study military health care. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Both houses of Congress held hearings this week on conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Investigations began after the Washington Post reported last month on poor living conditions for soldiers recovering from war wounds. Some said they had to wait months for follow-up treatment or separation from the Army.

The newspaper described, for example, a building where recovering soldiers had to live with mice, mold and insects.

Military officials apologized at a hearing held Monday at Walter Reed by members of the House of Representatives. Lawmakers also heard from soldiers and family members about long delays with paperwork.

An Army document shows that officials at Walter Reed and the Army Medical Command were warned last year about a risk of system overload. More than twenty thousand service members have been wounded in Iraq alone.

Another issue involves brain injuries in troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recent news reports have told of some having to wait months for treatment. Congress has demanded that the Department of Veterans Affairs improve the situation.

An explosion that shakes the brain can cause traumatic brain injury. Doctors may not be able to see any injuries. But signs of it can include headaches, feeling tense, sleep disorders, memory problems and depression.

The department says all patients who recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan will now be tested for traumatic brain injury. The new testing will start in the spring at all one hundred fifty-five V.A. medical centers. And all V.A. health care providers will be trained about this kind of injury.

In announcing the plan, V.A. Secretary Jim Nicholson noted that the department "is a nationally recognized leader in health care."

But this is not the first time the veterans hospital system has been criticized for poor service. The system began in the nineteen thirties. Over the years, it has gone through periods with more patients than it could handle. World War Two, for example, created waiting lists for beds in veterans hospitals.

Walter Reed is a leading military hospital. But a two thousand five law to reorganize military bases calls for it to close four years from now. Army officials say they are moving quickly to deal with the problems there. The hospital's commander for the past six months was replaced and the secretary of the Army was forced to resign.

But problems are being described not just at Walter Reed. President Bush says he is concerned that soldiers and their families are not getting the treatment they should. This week he established a commission to examine health care both at the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Former Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, and former health secretary Donna Shalala, a Democrat, have agreed to head the commission.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.