A bi-partisan presidential panel called Wednesday for sweeping changes to the US military health care system months after revelations that war veterans faced dismal conditions in the country's top military hospital.
President George W. Bush appointed the panel in March after news reports revealed that wounded war veterans seeking health benefits endured bureaucratic nightmares at Walter Reed, the top US army hospital.
AdvertisementThe Washington Post also found severely wounded soldiers living in a building with moldy walls and infested with mice and cockroaches.
Wednesday's recommendations represent "the first major overhaul of the disability system in more than 50 years," according to a statement from the group.
The nine-member panel called for measures to help the veterans cut through bureaucracy to get aid, called for aggressive aid to treat post-traumatic stress disorder -- a psychological condition often downplayed in the macho military world -- and urged measures to strengthen support for families of the wounded soldiers.
"These are bold, innovative recommendations that are doable and can be acted upon quickly," said panel co-chair Donna Shalala, a former secretary of health and human services under president Bill Clinton.
"We will not let these recommendations sit on a shelf," said Bob Dole, the other co-chair, a Republican former US senator seriously wounded in World War II. "They need to be acted upon now."
Bush told reporters Wednesday that he instructed the secretary of defense and the head of the Veterans Affairs office "to look at every one of these recommendations, to take them seriously, and to implement them."
Votevets.org, a high-profile group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, called on Bush to immediately implement the panel's recommendations.
The group reacted to earlier statements by White House spokesman Tony Snow saying the recommendations would not be implemented immediately, but merged into ongoing plans to improve health care for returning soldiers.
"It is unfortunate that the White House is signaling that they don't view this as an urgent issue," said group founder Jon Soltz.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans filed a class-action lawsuit against the US government on Monday for providing them with deficient medical and financial support.
Shalala, interviewed on CNN along with Dole, said the White House needed time to review their report. "Well, to be fair, they have just gotten the recommendations from us," she said. "So we will give them a little bit of time, and I mean a little bit of time."
Dole said he was confident the president would implement the recommendations. "Now we have done our job and we expect the executive branch and the Congress to do theirs," he said.
The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure designed to ease some of the acute problems faced by wounded soldiers.
The measure will streamline benefit systems offered for veterans and enhance diagnosis and treatment for brain injured servicemen and women, and includes new training programs for caregivers.
The panel's report "can only serve to better inform the administration about the pressing health care needs of America?s veterans and make the case for the substantial ... health care increases," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi is scheduled to meet Shalala and Dole on Thursday to discuss the report.