WASHINGTON, April 14, 2008 – The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are making progress to improve health care for injured servicemembers and military veterans, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. The two agencies “are working together to better serve wounded warriors,” Gates, accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake, told reporters at a news conference at the Pentagon’s river entrance.

“Our departments are making progress on the over 400 recommendations put forth by several major commissions and task forces,” Gates said. Several fact-finding panels were formed to examine servicemembers’ and veterans’ health care after a series of Washington Post articles published in February 2007 cited substandard practices involving medical outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

Gates and Peake were accompanied at the Pentagon news conference by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England and Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield. The deputies have been meeting weekly “to track implementation and progress” of commission recommendations, Gates said.

Defense and VA collaborations are improving veterans’ outpatient care, tracking patients’ long-term recovery through one system that is jointly administered by both DoD and VA, streamlining disability medical evaluation procedures, simplifying case-management procedures, and more, Gates said.

Gates said he looks forward to future collaboration with Peake and his agency “to ensure the wounded servicemembers receive the first-rate health care that they so much deserve.”

Peake echoed Gates’ sentiments, noting federal wounded warrior recovery coordinators in place nationwide “are really starting to make a difference” in ensuring military veterans are getting the best health care available.

“We continue to seek ways … to understand how best to improve our disability processing for our wounded warriors and transition them effectively into the VA system when that is necessary,” Peake said.

Peake saluted the Army’s wounded warrior transition brigades, the Navy’s Safe Harbor program, the Marine Corps’ Marine for Life and wounded warrior regiment programs, and the Air Force’s Palace HART (Helping Airmen Recover Together) programs for assisting injured servicemembers and wounded transitioning veterans.

All of these programs “are important as we focus on doing the right thing by our wounded warriors,” Peake said, adding that he’s pleased by the progress that has been made.

“There has never, in my experience, been a closer cooperation between the departments and a more vigorous exchange of information and ideas and problem-solving than what we have today,” Peake added.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and former Sen. Robert Dole were appointed by President Bush to head an investigative panel to examine allegations of poor outpatient care at Walter Reed. That commission released its findings in July. In addition, the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments launched extensive reviews of all of their medical facilities to ensure that wounded warriors are being treated properly.

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