Gates says Walter Reed should close

Published May 3, 2007

WASHINGTON - Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the aging hospital heavily criticized for inadequate care of wounded war veterans, should be closed as planned, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

Gates' conclusion, following a review of Walter Reed by an independent advisory group, runs counter to the recommendation of some in Congress who have called recently for the Pentagon to reverse its 2005 decision to close the facility.

The review group, which presented a summary of its conclusions at a Pentagon news conference with Gates, recommended that Walter Reed remain on a list of military facilities to be closed. It also urged that a plan to move the hospital's capabilities to an expanded National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., be accelerated.

The review group's central finding, released last month, was that money woes and Pentagon neglect were mainly to blame for shoddy outpatient conditions and bureaucratic delays at Walter Reed, the Army's premier medical center.

Gates said that based on currently available information it would make sense to go ahead with the plan to close Walter Reed in 2011.

"But we ought to have the flexibility to make sure that it stays open until Bethesda ... are completely ready to take on the responsibilities of the patients and the staff that are at Walter Reed now. Walter Reed should not be closed unless those other facilities are ready to go, in my opinion, " he added.