WASHINGTON – A presidential commission created to examine troop and veterans care after the Walter Reed controversy may not have enough time to complete its work given its broad mission, a Senate leader said Thursday.
In a letter, Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, asked President Bush for more specifics on how the nine-member panel plans to meet its June 30 deadline. The commission is led by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, a Democrat.
"Without the time to delve into these issues, we fear that we may be looking at solely a political reaction to the very real problems at Walter Reed," Akaka wrote, in a letter joined by four other Democrats on the committee as well as independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
Following revelations of poor conditions and neglect in Walter Reed Army Medical Center's outpatient care, Bush created the panel last week with a broad mandate of studying troop and veterans care from the battlefield through their transition to civilian life.
The commission — one of a slew of reviews underway by congressional committees, the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs — is expected to hold its first meeting Friday to hire staff and find office space.
Some veterans groups have urged quick action, noting that problems of substandard care have been known and reported by the Government Accountability Office for years. But earlier this week, Dole said he anticipated the panel will need to exercise its option to extend the June 30 deadline by at least 30 days.
"If we are going to go out and have some hearings and visit DOD facilities, VA facilities, whatever, it's going to take awhile," he said on CNN.
Separately, an interagency task force led by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson created a Web site Thursday to solicit input from service members, veterans and their families on the ease of accessing federal benefits.
The task force of eight agency leaders, including Defense, Labor and Health and Human Services, is due to provide a report sometime next month on what the Pentagon and VA can immediately do to fix problems.
People are asked to e-mail their comments to TFHeroes(at)va.gov or fax 202-273-9599. More information can be found at www.va.gov/taskforce.