Investigators to Disclose Walter Reed Report

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The Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors releases a report on the problems at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Walter Reed was the center of a political firestorm after The Washington Post revealed poor living conditions for troops in the outpatient wing.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the day investigators offer their views of what went wrong at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington, D.C. That's a facility that cares for troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. And earlier this year, we learned that some of those wounded were lost in the bureaucracy or getting substandard care. The reason we learned that is because of a reporting team that included Dana Priest of The Washington Post is on the line. Good morning.

Ms. DANA PRIEST (Journalist, The Washington Post): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Yeah, good to talk with you again. Can you remind us what problems people were facing at Walter Reed?

Ms. PRIEST: Well, you had, first of all, about 700 outpatients who had been treated at the hospital there, but none were living - but actually languishing in various housing units on Walter Reed and were being treated really in substandard ways - really neglectfully. They were patients who were trying to do rehab, many of them with mental illness and memory problems who were left without appointments and no one to remind them that they had appointments, who were facing just a pile of paperwork that was contradictory, often erroneous to try to get themselves out of there and back home.

INSKEEP: So they get this amazing care and then get shuffled off someplace and sort of lost during the rehab.

Ms. PRIEST: And some of them live there for longer than a year just in this limbo, waiting to be helped.

INSKEEP: Now I have to ask, because since you folks wrote your story, people have been fired. The Army has talked about many changes. Are there still hundreds of people in that kind of situation?

Ms. PRIEST: Not quite. There are still hundreds of people living at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as outpatients, but the facility has really done a very good job in bringing in more people to help them through and trying to change attitudes of the people who care for them as outpatients and that sort of thing.

However, it wasn't confined to Walter Reed. And there are places throughout the country where there are not that many soldiers, but hundreds living as outpatients. And I hear everyday from them about problems that they're facing that sound awful lot like the problems at Walter Reed, only perhaps on a smaller scale.

So there are some systemic problems facing the Army and the other services about how to treat soldiers when they come home, when they're wounded, when they have, you know, financial problems because their spouses are there to take care of them now. And they're ready to transition into perhaps either back to the Army as a wounded soldier or into the Veterans Administration system.

INSKEEP: Which brings us now to this White House panel, which is going to make recommendations today. Briefly, as best you've been able to determine, what are they proposing?

Ms. PRIEST: Well, I don't think there will be any proposals that are specific to Walter Reed, because again, they're looking at the system. I think they're going to tackle what is called the medical evaluation process. It's the big beast that all soldiers have to go through. And they really fear it because it's so arbitrary. It's conducted by individual doctors who can - who have varying judgments on how much disability one soldier with no legs should get versus another soldiers who's lost a leg and…

INSKEEP: Oh, a quick decision that could totally change somebody's life or affect somebody's life.

Ms. PRIEST: Or yes, absolutely, and deny them a lot of benefits. But also they're going to look at the information sharing - in other words, the paperwork problem, the electronic paperwork, lost paperwork. They're going to look at mental health. They'll have recommendations. So they have looked at mental health, and they'll make some recommendations on how better to deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome. And, of course, the signature wound of this war, which is the traumatic brain injury - things that the service is having trouble with, and there are a growing number of soldiers coming back with these. They'll look at family support and how there is the lack of it needs to get a lot better.

INSKEEP: And we'll listen for more of that reporting as we learn more. Dana Priest, thanks very much.

Ms. PRIEST: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She's with The Washington Post. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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