By Joshua Winata
Killeen Daily Herald
SAN ANTONIO – While lauding the state-of-the-art rehabilitative technology during his tour of Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Thursday, President George W. Bush called for a modernization of the system for managing care for the nation's veterans.
"Our system needs to be modernized. We have an outdated system that can bog down those who are recovering in a maze of bureaucracy," Bush said, citing the poor outpatient care caused by bureaucratic delays and administrative failures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"It's unacceptable to me as the commander in chief, it's unacceptable to the families of those who deserve the best care, and it's unacceptable to the American people," Bush said.
To remedy those shortcomings, Bush expressed support for the findings of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, a task force that provided specific recommendations for improving the system of care for veterans.
The commission was formed in March and reported its findings in July with action steps for the Congress, and the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
"We don't want people to fall through the cracks of care. We don't want people to be confused by the system. We want people's families to be comfortable with the care that their loved ones are receiving," Bush said.
The president's tour of the medical center came on the heels of the implementation of some of those recommendations, which Bush addressed in his statement.
Last week, the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs signed an agreement to create the position of federal recovery coordinators, who would guide military patients through the bureaucracy during their recuperation and provide long-term medical and rehabilitative services to seriously wounded, injured and ill active-duty service members, veterans and their families.
They will have access to and support from top-level officials from both departments.
The first 10 coordinators are expected to be hired by Dec. 1 and in place at key military health care facilities, including Brooke Army Medical Center, by January.
Other steps that Bush highlighted included a pilot program to establish a comprehensive disability exam, two studies of the veterans' disabilities system conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the development of best practices for post-traumatic stress disorder and brain trauma.
Bush also urged Congress to take quick action to adopt a veterans appropriations bill as a stand-alone piece of legislation. Bush vetoed a $3.7 billion veteran funding bill Tuesday after congressional Democrats attempted to lump the legislation with a health and education bill that the president had promised to reject.
"Funding for the nation's veterans should not be held hostage while Congress attempts to add billions in unrelated spending," said the White House veto statement.
Bush said he left Brooke Army Medical Center inspired by the recovering servicemen and women and thankful for the doctors, nurses and volunteers to provide care to wounded soldiers.
The president's tour centered on the $45 million Center for the Intrepid that opened in January. It was funded by private contributions from the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The four-story facility features a pool, an indoor running track, two-story climbing wall, a virtual driving center and fully-furnished apartments designed to help patients adapt to normal life.
"The center is a tribute to the generosity of the American people. Make no mistake about it – the American people support the men and women who wear our nation's uniform," Bush said. "The center is a testament to our deep belief that someone wounded in defense of America needs all the help that he or she can get."
At the rehabilitation center, Bush stopped at a "gait lab," where amputees with prostheses learn to walk on gravel, artificial turf and other surfaces. A pool with a simulated wave allows patients to practice their balance while riding tiny surfboards.
Bush toured a physical therapy gym where two double amputees tossed a ball while balancing themselves on exercise balls. He talked to two servicemen with faces so burned that scarring had left them with mask-like expressions.
Bush's visit to the medical center came between fundraisers in Houston and San Antonio that raised $1.3 million for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the GOP's get-out-the-vote effort in the state.
In Houston, Bush attended a brunch at the mansion of Richard Kinder, chairman of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. The second fundraiser was hosted by lawyer John Steen to help Cornyn in his race against Democratic state Rep. Rick Noriega.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-6481