Recovery Coordinator Urged for Injured Soldiers
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The panel that investigated the care given to wounded soldiers and veterans gave its recommendations yesterday to President Bush.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The spirit of that report is, any time we have somebody hurt, they deserve the best possible care and their family needs strong support. We've provided that in many cases but the extent we've had we're going to adjust.
MONTAGNE: President Bush responding to the recommendations, which followed news reports earlier this year that returning servicemen and women face squalid conditions at some military hospitals and layers of bureaucracy as they tried to get care. The panel that produced the recommendations was co-chaired by Donna Shalala, who served in the Clinton administration, and she joins us on the line.
Ms. DONNA SHALALA (Co-chair, Veterans Care Commission): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Your report urges broad changes to veterans care. What do you consider the most critical, the most urgent reforms?
Ms. SHALALA: Well, actually, we picked six, which is unusual for a commission because usually you have 302. So I don't want to pick any one of them out. It begins by saying that seriously wounded veterans really need someone to coordinate their care. We've called it a recovery coordinator. We've said teams of doctors have to agree on a recovery plan and make it very clear that one person is in charge of coordinating it and advocating it for the patient.
MONTAGNE: Let's go back to the precise things that you would like to see changed. Just - if you can quickly rattle them off and give us a sense of what it is you're telling the president.
Ms. SHALALA: Well, first, we're talking about coordination of care. Second, a major overhaul of a very confusing disability system. We believe that the DOD ought to only make the decision about whether you're fit or unfit for duty. And after that, if there's a disability decision to be made, it should only be done by the VA, not the DOD.
Now, you've got two sets of disability decisions, appeals. Very confusing to a young soldier that wants to get on with their life. Third, we believe there ought to be more family support. This is a different generation. Women are working. Moms are working. They can't give up their jobs and go rushing off to a hospital thousands of miles away to coordinate the care of a loved one. And we have to take responsibility to makes sure they have the support they need when someone is severely injured
Ms. SHALALA: After that, we talk about a series of recommendations that would actually clean up the Walter Reed situation. One of our concerns is it's going to close in 2011. We have to make sure it continues to have first rate care. A third of all the patients that come out of Iraq that are seriously injured end up going there, and it's very important.
Finally, we make a recommendation on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. We have to make sure our equipment is first class. But more important, soldiers are prepared for the kind of trauma of battle, and, once injured, that they get treated immediately and intensively.
MONTAGNE: You say your recommendations required strong leadership, but this issue has been on the table in some form since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Why do you think it will be deal with now?
Ms. SHALALA: Well, I think the attention that was brought by the Washington Post to the Walter Reed facilities situation, the fact that Americans as a group, no matter what their position is on the war, believe that injured soldiers ought to be taken care of with the highest quality care. This is not something for a Washington insider. Every American I've met over the last year has said we've got to do something; it's shameful that anyone who was injured in this war would not get the highest quality care.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us.
Ms. SHALALA: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: Donna Shalala co-chaired the presidential panel on military and veterans' health care. She was the secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration.
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