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Congress Seeks Fixes to Veteran Medical Care System

Congress held hearings Wednesday on military health care spending after recent media reports of substandard medical care for military service members created an uproar. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., discuss Congress' next steps.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Today, it was the turn of the committees that control the Pentagon's purse strings to look at the state of military medical care.

    In his third appearance in as many days before a congressional panel, Army surgeon general, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, was joined at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing by his counterparts in the Air Force and Navy.

    Apart from funding questions, Washington State Democrat Patty Murray sought guarantees that critics inside the military would not be punished.

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), Washington: I want your personal assurance, if you would please give that to me, that no soldier who blows the whistle on substandard care will be retaliated against.

  • LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, Army Surgeon General:

    Senator, you have my word. There's a law that prevents that, also, the whistleblower law. And I share your concern that soldiers either feel that they can't talk — certainly talk to their representatives.

    Certainly, we want them to talk to us, but we've never put a prohibition or a threat of retaliation, for example, if they talk to the press.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Navy's surgeon general, Vice Admiral Donald Arthur, warned of the risks of cutting money for medical care.

  • VICE ADM. DONALD ARTHUR, Surgeon General, U.S. Navy:

    We are not going to be able to maintain services at the level that we have now with a one-sixth cut in our funding. So we're facing a number of challenges that are coming together in a perfect storm.

    It's the funding; it's the people; and it's an increasing mission, not only for combat service support, but for those casualties who are coming back who need ever more services.

    We have physicians who are doing their own administrative work, filling out workers' compensation forms and other paperwork, because we don't have the support staff, because they have been systematically cut over the last few years.

    It's degrading our efficiency; it's degrading our morale; and it's degrading our ability to take care of combat-wounded veterans.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski asked about long-term planning with the Veterans Administration.

    SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), Maryland: The fact that here we are, in the fifth year of the war in Iraq, and we don't have a plan for what happens when these men and women leave, truly acute care, that not only the 50-year plan, but we don't have a three-year plan.

  • VICE ADM. DONALD ARTHUR:

    The Marines have a plan, the Marine for Life program and others that take care of Marines even after they're discharged, active duty or reserves. The Marines have been very, very forthcoming and forward-leaning in taking care of their own Marine casualties.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    After Mikulski was told that the Air Force has also worked with the Veterans Administration, she turned to Gen. Kiley of the Army.

  • SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI:

    Have you met with them?

  • LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY:

    I have not met with the secretary on this subject.

  • SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI:

    I find this horrifying. After five years, I just find this — the lack of a continuum.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This afternoon, Gen. Kiley was joined by top Army brass for more questions from a House Appropriations Subcommittee.