WASHINGTON – President Bush met Wednesday with the co-chairs of his new commission tasked to look at military and veterans health care. They are getting to work immediately on reviewing the nation's treatment of wounded warriors.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, who was wounded in World War II, and former Clinton administration Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, now president of the University of Miami, have been tapped to lead the panel.
"I am concerned that there may be flaws in the system between when a soldier is on the battlefield through the Defense Department to the Veterans Administration and finally to community. I can't think of two better people to analyze the situation and to make recommendations," Bush said in an Oval Office photo op.
Bush said Tuesday that bureaucratic delays and living conditions are unacceptable for soldiers who have signed up to defend the nation and fought in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"My decisions have put our kids in harm's way. And I'm concerned about the fact that when they come back they don't get the full treatment they deserve," he told an audience at the American Legion conference in Washington, D.C.
Bush promised change.
"We have an obligation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who have served our country. They deserve it, and they're going to get it," he said.
Stories about outpatient issues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center prompted the comprehensive review. But the president is also asking the commission to take a look at all veterans facilities as well.
"It's when they finish their care and move off to outpatient care that's the problem, and it's not fair. It's not fair to the family and it's not fair to the veterans," Dole said after meeting with Bush.
Dole said he is planning on stacking the nine-member panel with people close to the problem, including a patient, an enlisted soldier, a mother and a medical leader.
"Let's talk to the families and the soldiers and the young men and women who have made the sacrifice," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Bush a letter on Wednesday, outlining recommendations and asking for members of Congress to have a role in selecting members on the panel.
"It seems increasingly clear that the poor conditions and mistreatment exposed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are unfortunately part of a larger systemic failure to provide our heroes the care they deserve," according to the letter.
Dole said the panel is not going to pre-empt the interagency task force or Congress as they tackle issues related to military health care, but would try to come up with recommendations that could have an effect on the system over the next 30 years.
Pentagon officials told FOX News on Wednesday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked the task force to come up with a plan within days, not weeks, especially now that Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker has taken over as the new commander in charge of Walter Reed.
One official said the task force would need to address how the Army intends to respond to problems not only at its premier medical facility but also to ensure veterans do not face similar hurdles at other military medical centers Army-wide.
One source said the highest levels of the Pentagon are concerned that the ongoing coverage of problems uncovered at Walter Reed and the fallout from them could have a negative effect on military recruiting and morale at a time when so many members of the Armed Services are being called on to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and make sacrifices in the War on Terror.
Gates has already publicly expressed his disappointment in Army leadership and accepted the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey. But a Pentagon source said he remains dissatisfied with some of the answers he's been getting regarding the treatment of wounded war veterans at Walter Reed, and he will most likely use this as an opportunity to put his own stamp on Army leadership by bringing in a new secretary rather allowing Under Secretary Peter Geren to fill the position.
Though the outrage about soldiers' plights in the mold- and mice-filled Building 18 at Walter Reed has been bipartisan, Democrats are using the scandal to step up criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy.
Some have accused the White House of failing to plan for the casualties. Three separate congressional hearings are being held on Wednesday about Walter Reed or military medical care.
Asked if the conditions at Building 18 are an embarrassment to the administration, Shalala said: "I think it's an embarrassment to the country. I mean we're bipartisan and it's important that we all do what we can to make this right and to do it quickly. ... There have, in fact, been reforms of the system, but we're at war now with a significant number of lives being saved that weren't saved in previous wars that require a very different kind of system and we need to get this right for everyone.
"From my point of view, we ought to do it as Democrats and Republicans but more importantly as Americans," she said.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel, Molly Henneberg, Malini Bawa and Nick Simeone contributed to this report.