Sanders Joins Effort to Address Deficiencies at Walter Reed and Improve Care for Returning Service Members

Washington DC--Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) today joined Senator Barack Obama and Senator Claire McCaskill in sponsoring the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, legislation which would help to ensure that service members at Walter Reed and elsewhere receive the treatment, care, and services they deserve. The bill requires immediate improvements to the Walter Reed Medical Center and directs the DOD to slash red tape and reduce the logistical, financial and emotional burdens the current system plac

Washington DC--Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) today joined Senator Barack Obama and Senator Claire McCaskill in sponsoring the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, legislation which would help to ensure that service members at Walter Reed and elsewhere receive the treatment, care, and services they deserve. The bill requires immediate improvements to the Walter Reed Medical Center and directs the DOD to slash red tape and reduce the logistical, financial and emotional burdens the current system places on recovering service members and their families. Sanders visited the Walter Reed facility, including Building 18, yesterday and met with soldiers, families, and officials. Sanders, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs said, "The conditions brought to light in the recent Washington Post series on the residential facilities are appalling and absolutely unacceptable. The brave men and women who have served this country deserve the best medical and mental health care available and this legislation will help ensure that they receive the treatment and services they deserve. Sadly, these problems at America's flagship military hospital are symptomatic of the absolute failure of the Administration to provide the care and benefits that our current service members and our veterans have earned through their sacrifice for the nation." Specifically, the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act will require improvements to facilities and inspections; reduce paperwork and eliminate red tape for recovering service members; and improve counseling services for soldiers their families. The bill also provides for a Wounded Warrior Oversight Group to monitor progress and ensure that our recovering service members receive the highest quality of care. Sanders said, "I am even more dismayed by today's Washington Post article, which concludes that high ranking officials in the Administration knew of the problems at Walter Reed and did nothing to rectify them. Our soldiers deserve better and we must act immediately to make sure the government stands by them throughout their recovery process at home." During Sanders visit to the Walter Reed Medical Center, he examined the conditions at the center and visited with the wife of Sergeant Archie Benware, an injured service member from Bethel, Vermont who is currently receiving treatment at Walter Reed. A summary of the bill is below and a copy of the legislation is attached (click here). ###Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act The "Dignity for Wounded Warriors" Act ensures that wounded service members receive the treatment, care and services they deserve. The bill will require improved facilities and robust inspections; will reduce paperwork and eliminate red tape for recovering service members; provide improved counseling services for servicemembers and their families; and give improved support for families of recovering servicemembers. The bill also provides for a Wounded Warrior Oversight Group to monitor the progress and ensure that the nation's recovering service members receive the highest quality of care possible. Ensuring Safe, Clean Housing:The Washington Post revealed unacceptable living conditions for many outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the flagship military hospital, including moldy walls, broken elevators, and general disrepair in recovering servicemember barracks. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act: ? Establishes standards for military outpatient housingincluding that outpatient dormitories must match the existing service standard for active-duty barracksand that repair requests must be completed within 15 days or alternate housing must be offered.? Establishes a zero-tolerance policy for pest infestation. ? Creates an inspection regime to ensure high-level military officials are aware of problems at medical facilities. ? Requires an EMT and Crisis Counselor at all outpatient residences 24 hours a day. Reducing Paperwork and Bureaucracy: It takes an average of 209 days for soldiers to go through the process of determining whether or not they can remain in the military and, if not, at what level of disability they will be assessed and discharged. This process is made more complicated with duplicative requirements, extensive paperwork, and inefficient case management. The bill:? Brings the Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES) under one command to reduce bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary delays.? Calls for injury-specific PDES procedures to allow the most severely injured service members to bypass unnecessary and lengthy steps. ? Requires that PDES system be available and accessible entirely online so that service members and case managers can more easily complete paperwork requirements. ? Requires a single location for PDES processing at hospitals that serve more than 100 recovering servicemembers. ? Requires the Pentagon to identify and implement other ways to streamline PDES. Improving Casework:Some caseworkers at Walter Reed have to care for 50 or more recovering soldiers, helping them schedule appointments, caring for their everyday needs, and helping fill out paperwork. Military caseworkers are overwhelmed, leading to some service members falling through the cracks. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:? Increases the number of caseworkers.? Establishes an interim ratio of 1 caseworker and 1 supervising NCO for each 20 recovering service members. ? Requires that the Pentagon establish target ratios for each military treatment facility according requirements of the patient population. ? Requires an evaluation of staff training and requires special focus on training for identification of mental illness and suicide prevention. Caring for Family Members:Family members often have to leave behind jobs to care for injured servicemembers. If they are not beneficiaries, they often have to pay for their own medical care, and face confusing bureaucracy and inadequate support. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act:? Provides federal protections for the jobs of family members who are caring for recovering servicemembers, so they do not have to choose between caring for their loved one and keeping their job. ? Extends medical care to family members while they are living at military treatment facilities. ? Extends employment services to care-giving family members. ? Strengthens existing anonymous crisis counseling and respite services. Increasing Availability of Information and Assistance:Wounded troops and their families often have trouble understanding the bureaucratic process of getting care and determining whether they can stay in the military. The bill: ? Creates 2 new 24 hour bi-lingual hotlines (a crisis counseling hotline and a family assistance and respite hotline). ? Requires the creation of a single manual for outpatient care procedures, including PDES, family support, personnel processing and finance requirements and requires that it be made available online. ? Establishes an "ombudsman" for recovering servicemember outpatient care in each major medical command. ? Increases feedback outlets including requiring monthly town halls, and development of new anonymous feedback outlets. Creation of an Oversight Board: One of the fundamental causes of the problems at Walter Reed was a lack of accountability. The Dignity in Care Act:? Creates a Wounded Warrior Oversight Board appointed by Congressional leadership that will oversee implementation of the act and serve as a constant advocate for recovering servicemembers into the future.