The U.S. Army is moving quickly to address issues recently covered in the press with regard to outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey, PhD directed vice chief of staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody to develop and implement the action plan to address shortcomings at Walter Reed as well as Army-wide. The four focus areas of the action plan are: soldier accountability, health and welfare; infrastructure; medical administrative process; and information dissemination.
The Army also is participating in a defense department-wide review examining the consistency of service members’ disability evaluations and how potential issues identified in last year’s government accountability office report are being addressed.
Beyond these actions, the Army already had recognized shortcomings in the physical disability evaluation system last spring, and Harvey directed the Army inspector general to undertake a study of this system.
By the fifth year of war, the volume of medical evaluation board cases significantly increased from 6,560 cases in fiscal year 2002 to about 11,000 cases in fiscal years 2005 and 2006. The number of physical evaluation board cases increased from more than 9,000 in calendar year 2001 to a peak of more than 15,000 cases in calendar year 2005. Increase inpatient loads impacted the Army’s ability to meet the needs of soldiers and the institution in a timely manner.
The purpose of the physical disability evaluation system is to assess the fitness of soldiers to remain in the Army and determine financial compensation for those found to be physically unfit for service. The physical disability evaluation system process begins when a soldier continues to experience physical limitations. When a soldier no longer meets medical retention standards identified in Army regulations, a doctor refers the soldier to the physical disability evaluation system. Many cases have become more complicated because of the types of injuries the soldiers are sustaining in combat, and with this patient volume, the Army currently does not meet its own case-processing time standards or those of the defense department.
Processing time, however, is not the critical measure of how well the system is working, according to an Army press release.
“We care to standard, not to time,” Cody said. “Many of our severely wounded soldiers, who previously would have been discharged, now have the option to remain in the Army. For all of our soldiers, we will provide services equal to their sacrifice.”