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 Home > News & Policies > March 2007

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 30, 2007

President Bush Visits Troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Washington, D.C.

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2:12 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you all for joining me. Every time I come to Walter Reed my spirits are lifted. They're first lifted by the soldiers and Marines who are recovering from some very tough wounds. I had the honor of pinning the Purple Heart on quite a few people today, and I am always impressed by their resolve and their commitment to the country. Every time I come to Walter Reed, I'm also impressed by the care givers -- the docs, the nurses, the people who spend many hours trying to heal those who have been wounded in service to our country.

President George W. Bush presents the Purple Heart to U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Ryan Bleill of Greenfield, Ind., during a visit Friday, March 30, 2007, to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Bleill is recovering from injuries sustained in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  White House photo by Eric Draper The soldiers and Marines stay here only for a few months, but the compassion they receive here stays with them for a lifetime. And so on behalf of a grateful nation, I do want to thank our docs and our nurses and care givers for providing extraordinary health care to the people who wear the uniform. I know full well that the work you do is behind the scenes. In other words, you don't get a lot of glory for what you do. But you certainly do from the family members, who first come here and they see their loved one on a bed, wondering whether or not that person will ever walk again. And then, six months later, the body is returning and the spirit is strong, the person is up and moving around -- the family and the soldier is impressed by that care.

Americans must understand that the problems recently uncovered at Walter Reed were not the problems of medical care. The quality of care at this fantastic facility is great. And it needs to remain that way. Independent analysis have given extremely high marks for the quality of care here. In other words, this isn't my assessment, nor is it the assessment of people I have talked to -- the families -- although that's what they believe. It is also the assessment of a joint commission, which accredits thousands of American hospitals. And this commission has given Walter Reed the highest possible rating, a gold seal of approval.

Recently, the commission performed a surprise inspection -- they didn't give a bunch of notice, they showed up and verified the high quality of care here. I want to congratulate you for what you're doing. (Applause.)

The problems at Walter Reed were caused by bureaucratic and administrative failures. The system failed you, and it failed our troops. And we're going to fix it.

I met some of the soldiers who had been housed in Building 18. I was disturbed by their accounts of what went wrong. It is not right to have someone volunteer to wear our uniform and not get the best possible care. I apologize for what they went through, and we're going to fix the problem.

And that's exactly what this government is going to do. We're not going to be satisfied until everybody gets the kind of care that their folks and families expect. And that's what I expect. And we've taken important steps to achieve the objective.

President George W. Bush addresses the medical personnel of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Friday, March 30, 2007 in Washington, D.C., thanking them for providing extraordinary health care to the people who wear the uniform. President Bush also visited with patients and their family members on his visit to the medical facility. White House photo by Eric Draper First, Secretary Gates has insisted on accountability in the military command. He made changes in leadership. He made tough decisions, because he, like me, demands results. I welcome General Schoomaker. But I also welcome General Tucker. Tucker is not a doc. As General Schoomaker informed me, he is a bureaucracy buster. His job is to make sure that the bureaucracy does not get in the way of making sure every soldier, Marine, and their families get the best possible care. And I welcome you to the command, and thank you.

Secretary Gates, as I said, has approved a non-medical deputy commander -- that's Tucker. Building 18 has been closed. We're fixing that which needs to be fixed, including, interestingly enough, putting a new roof on it. The patients from Building 18 have been transferred into Abrams Hall, and I'm pleased to report that living conditions there are of high quality.

We have formed three working groups to help address problems that may exist and may arise. I want to share some of what the -- the strategy behind the working groups is, and that is, first, Gates established -- Secretary Gates established an independent review group, and that was primarily to examine the conditions at Walter Reed and Bethesda. The group will recommend ways to ensure you have what you need to improve medical care.

I heard one recommendation, in other words, one of the care providers said, make sure we always have the best possible equipment, we want to be on the leading edge of technology, not the trailing edge. I agree completely. Those are the kinds of things that Secretary Gates's commission is going to be looking into.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Nicholson is leading a task force of Cabinet officers to identify potential gaps in the services our wounded troops receive as they return from the battlefield. In other words, we want all hands on deck here at the federal level to make sure that health care is as good as it possibly can be. I'm not talking about the health care in the operating room; I'm talking about the bureaucracies that may prevent good health care from being delivered.

Finally, Bob Dole and Donna Shalala will chair a bipartisan presidential commission on care for our wounded warriors. They will conduct a comprehensive view of the entire system for providing physical and emotional care to servicemen and women injured in this war. They will make sure that that person gets high-quality care from the time they suffer their wounds through their return to civilian life.

We want to make sure, for example, that any transfer from the Defense Department to the Veterans Affairs Department is smooth, and that there's not bureaucratic delay or obstacles in the way of making sure that we can report to our fellow citizens that people are getting the best possible health care.

I want to thank those who are working in these groups, and I'm looking forward to getting their recommendations, because I want to make sure our military families can be assured that their loved ones will get the very best.

This military system of ours, when you really think about it, just across the country, it's very complex and it's large. Yet there's nothing complex about what we owe our troops; we owe them the best. That's what you believe here at Walter Reed. I have seen the care and dedication that you give on a daily basis. I just came from the therapy rooms, the physical therapy and the vocational therapy rooms. I see people patiently working with a wounded soldier on how to pick up cards and play cards with their new prosthesis. It's just hours of help all because the people here recognize each human being matters, each person counts, and each person has endless possibilities, even though they may have received terrible wounds on the battlefield.

None of the problems that we have uncovered can overshadow the great work you do here. That's what you have to know. It's a special calling to serve those who serve our country. It requires a unique person to come here on a daily basis, and to heal the hurts of those who served our country.

And so our nation is grateful, and I'm proud to be your Commander-in-Chief. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 2:22 P.M. EDT