WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Tuesday urged Defense Secretary Robert Gates to respond to reports of poor treatment and conditions for injured troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter to Gates requesting he investigate the conditions for injured soldiers there, as well as at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., also sent a letter to Gates.
"If conditions at Walter Reed, the crown jewel of military health care facilities, have degraded to the point where mouse traps are handed out to patients, how can we feel confident that our troops and veterans truly have the care and transition assistance they have been promised at any facility across the country?" Mikulski and Murray wrote.
The Washington Post recently reported that the 113-acre institution that serves as a surgical hospital and rehab facility for wounded soldiers is deteriorating. Building 18, which houses hundreds of soldiers recovering from battle wounds, reportedly offers poor living conditions.
"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months, told the Post. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."
Slaughter said the reports must be addressed immediately.
"It is deeply troubling to think that veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much are being left largely alone to struggle with injuries without the care and attention they need," Slaughter said in a statement. "And while I am glad to hear of changes underway at Walter Reed, it shouldn't take a newspaper exposé to spur action on behalf of our wounded soldiers."
The White House responded to repeated questions from reporters, saying President Bush is concerned about the report.
"The president first learned of the troubling allegations regarding Walter Reed from the stories this weekend in the Washington Post. He is deeply concerned and wants any problems identified and fixed," reads a White House statement.
Bush spokesman Tony Snow said the Department of Defense is reviewing the allegations in response to The Washington Post's series entitled, "The Other Walter Reed."
"The men and women who have gone and fought for our country over there, they deserve the best care," Snow said.
Snow said he wasn't sure how the president learned about the report, but said "we believe that they [troops] deserve better."
"Of course there's outrage that men and women who have been fighting have not received the outpatient care — if you read the stories, there are many who are happy with it, some who are unhappy, and it's important that we show our commitment to the people who have served," Snow said after repeated questions from reporters.
"The president certainly wants to make sure that, as I said before, whatever problems there are get fixed," Snow said.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a routine visitor to Walter Reed and Vietnam War veteran, called the reports "disturbing."
"It is a disservice to those who have bravely sacrificed and it is a dishonor to their brave service to expose them to these conditions. Those who are responsible must be held accountable and immediate rectification must be aggressively pursued," Murtha said in a statement.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center is also investigating the former head of a family assistance program. Click here to read the story.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.