Monday, Aug. 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., will close down at the end of the month, ending a century of service to the military.
Officials held a ceremony marking the closure last week, and the hospital’s patients and services will be transferred to other military facilities in the next few weeks. The move was ordered by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005 as part of the military’s consolidation efforts. Many services will be transferred to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which is scheduled to open next month at the site of the Navy’s hospital in Bethesda, Md.
The best-known medical facility, Walter Reed has a long legacy. It has treated everyone from rank-and-file soldiers to sitting presidents. The quality of the medical care has been top notch, and the facility has become particularly well-known for its work in prosthetics.
However, the facility’s reputation was tarnished in 2007, after a Washington Post series detailed how wounded troops recovering at the hospital were facing terrible living conditions. That led to quick changes in the way the Army handles and treats wounded soldiers.
The importance of quality care for the troops cannot be overlooked. More than 2 million Americans have served in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the country has a responsibility to take care of those who were wounded during service.
As The New York Times recently reported, the cost of keeping the nation’s commitment will be high for years to come. With better training and medical advances, soldiers are surviving battlefield wounds at a remarkable rate. But there are many troops who come home with long-lasting wounds, both physical and mental.
An analyst from the Congressional Budget Office recently told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the annual cost of treating veterans from the current wars cost $1.9 billion in 2010. It is expected to rise to $8.4 billion in the next decade. And federal officials say the real cost will be in the years to follow as veterans age. Studies say the peak cost of treatment for soldiers after a war doesn’t hit until 30 to 40 years later. One researcher suggests that the cost of health care and benefits for veterans from the current wars will cost $1 trillion over the next 40 years.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she is worried about the future of veterans’ care.
“No one is thinking about the lifetime costs this country is responsible for,” said Murray, chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Some members of Congress, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., have proposed trimming veterans’ benefits as part of budget-reducing plans.
Although those plans have been blocked so far, veterans advocates say the push to reduce federal spending will likely have an effect on veterans.
Congress can’t let that happen. The soldiers went to war on the nation’s behalf, and they should return to find the country willing and able to stand with them over the long term.