WASHINGTON – An Arizona congressman said Saturday that mold-covered walls, rodent infestations and other problems uncovered recently at Walter Reed Army Medical Center reveal "a catastrophic failure of leadership" by the Bush administration.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., said in the Democrats' weekly radio address that Congress is acting quickly to hold the administration accountable for underfunding and mismanaging the veterans health care system.
"This is no way to treat our troops, no way to treat our veterans, and Democrats are taking action," Mitchell said.
Mitchell's comments come after a week of congressional hearings on reports of shoddy outpatient health care at Walter Reed, one of the nation's premier facilities for treating veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Current and former officials and patients at the hearings told of neglect, bureaucratic delays and other problems at veterans hospitals and clinics across the country.
"Sadly, what is happening at Walter Reed is not an exception to the way this administration has treated our troops," said Mitchell, who chaired one of the hearings. "What we now know is that the situation at Walter Reed cannot simply be fixed with drywall and paint. The problems at Walter Reed were not just about run-down buildings — the problem was a catastrophic failure of leadership."
Army and administration officials have said they are working to fix the problems at Walter Reed. Caseworkers, financial specialists and others have been added to work with injured soldiers' families.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign. Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was in charge of Walter Reed since August 2006, also was ousted from his post.
A bipartisan commission appointed by President Bush is reviewing the military and veterans health care systems, as are the Pentagon, the Army and the Veterans Affairs Department.
Mitchell said the Bush administration has tried to care for veterans "on the cheap."
Democrats have provided about $3.5 billion above the president's budget request in the emergency war funding bill, which House members will vote on soon, to deal with the health care problems faced by veterans, he said.
"I think one of the best things Congress can do is find government waste and weed it out. But it's not right to hurt veterans when they so desperately need our care," Mitchell said.