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Unwinding vets’ red tape

Times Staff Writer

President Bush said Thursday that the federal government was making progress removing the red tape and tackling other issues that have complicated treatment of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush said his administration had acted on several of the key recommendations of a high-level panel created to look into reports that stifling bureaucracy and shabby conditions were interfering with the recuperation of wounded service members.

The president spoke after completing a two-hour tour of a 9-month-old medical center that is treating some of the military’s most severely wounded troops. He said the center was working to help the service members “live full and productive lives.”

The $50-million rehabilitation facility, known as the Center for the Intrepid, opened at Brooke Army Medical Center at the end of January and was paid for by private contributions from more than 600,000 people. It includes an indoor running track, a two-story climbing wall and a prosthetic fabrication lab.

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Bush, who appeared moved at the end of his tour, watched Marine Lance Cpl. Matt Bradford of Winchester, Ky., make his way up a rock climbing wall. Bradford lost both legs and one eye, and has no vision in his other eye.

A physical therapist shouted directions as he slowly made his way to the ceiling.

“Good man, isn’t he?” Bush said before he posed for a photo with the Marine and his mother, who appeared to be choked up.

The president visited the military center between parties for the Texas GOP and for Sen. John Cornyn’s reelection campaign that were expected to raise $1.3 million.

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When the president splits his travel time between official events -- in this case, the tour of the rehabilitation center -- and political events, the government picks up a share of the costs that would otherwise be charged to the beneficiaries of the fundraising.

The hospital tour gave the White House an opportunity to promote its efforts to act on recommendations of the commission led by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala that investigated failures in the treatment of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The panel called for major changes in the care provided by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, some requiring congressional action and some that the administration could implement through changes in rules and regulations.

Bush said that the troops treated here were benefiting from medical advances “unimaginable just a decade years ago” but that the system for managing the care could “bog down some of those recovering in a maze of bureaucracy.”

“The technology has advanced. Our system needs to be modernized,” he said.

He called on Congress to act quickly on recommendations requiring legislation and said the Pentagon had already acted on several recommendations.

He said the government had begun hiring coordinators who would be assigned to individual service members to help them through their recuperation. Such coordinators were a key recommendation in response to complaints that wounded troops and their families encountered serious bureaucratic obstacles.

“We don’t want people to fall through the cracks of care,” he said.

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The government has also begun a pilot program to establish one exam to determine the extent of a service member’s disability, Bush said. Current regulations require them to undergo two exams -- one by the Pentagon and a second by Veterans Affairs.

In addition, the president said, a new national center for work on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury is hiring its first staff members.

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james.gerstenzang@ latimes.com


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