Veterans' care underfunded, general says
WASHINGTON -- The Army's new acting surgeon general said yesterday that she is concerned about long-term morale because the military lacks money to hire enough nurses and mental health specialists to treat thousands of troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When the original plans were made, we did not take into consideration we could be in a long war," said Major General Gale Pollock. She became surgeon general this month after Kevin Kiley was forced to resign in a scandal over poor treatment of war-wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"We have not been able to do the hiring," Pollock told a House Armed Services subcommittee.
She testified at the first of two congressional hearings yesterday on veterans' care during which lawmakers expressed impatience with the Bush administration's efforts. They said years of communication gaps between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have yet to be fixed.
Testimony from officials from the two departments highlighted the difficulties that lie ahead for the Bush administration in fixing problems following reports of shoddy outpatient treatment and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed Medical Center.
Addressing a Senate panel, Michael Kussman, executive-in-charge of the Veterans Health Administration, and Ellen Embrey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, defended their efforts to improve coordination that would speed healthcare to injured troops and veterans.
Embrey said the departments have taken steps to strengthen joint committees and place each other's personnel in Pentagon and VA-run facilities.
Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, cited a recent Government Accountability Office report that the two departments still fail to share health records electronically.
"We're now in the fifth year of this armed conflict," said Burr, of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "At what point do we actually look at what's going on and implement changes?"