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Senators Vow To Improve Wounded Vets' Care

Senators pledged on Tuesday to consider all options to fix a broken system of caring for wounded troops as President Bush said former Sen. Bob Dole and former health secretary Donna Shalala will lead the administration's investigation into problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"The war in Iraq has divided our nation, but the cause of supporting our troops unites us," said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We will do everything we can possibly do — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as grateful Americans — to care for those who have served our nation with such honor and distinction."

As his committee questioned top Defense Department officials, Levin, D-Mich., also used the revelations of poor conditions and outpatient care at Walter Reed to take a swipe at the president's war polices.

"Today's hearing is about another example of the lack of planning for a war that was premised on the assumption that combat operations would be swift, casualties would be minimal, and that we would be welcomed as liberators, instead of being attacked by the people we liberated," said Levin.

The hearing was Congress' second in two days on Walter Reed. Reports of wounded troops battling excessive red tape and dilapidated living conditions have enraged Republicans and Democrats. They are worried that problems there point to a broader pattern of neglect at military hospitals.

Mr. Bush told the American Legion in a speech that he had chosen bipartisan leaders — Dole and Shalala — to head the White House's probe. "We have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who served our country," he said. "They deserve it and they're going to get it."

Dole was a longtime Republican senator from Kansas and a presidential nominee in 1996. Shalala headed the Health and Human Services Department during the Clinton administration.

At Tuesday's hearing, the Pentagon's personnel chief promised action.

"I'm deeply chagrined by the events that bring us to this hearing this morning," David Chu said.

Arizona Sen. John McCain said Congress will consider whether legislation or additional resources are needed.

"I am dismayed this ever occurred," said McCain, the committee's top Republican who was captured and wounded during the Vietnam War. "It was a failure in the most basic tenets of command responsibility to take care of our troops."

During a House hearing Monday, two soldiers wounded in combat and a spouse of a wounded soldier recounted nightmarish stories of frustration as they tried to get medical attention and disability compensation.

"I'm afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg, that, when we (get) out into the field, we may find more of this," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that held the hearing.

Army officials said they accept responsibility but denied knowing about most of the problems.

"As we've seen, in the last couple of weeks, we have failed to meet our own standards at Walter Reed. For that, I'm both personally and professionally sorry," said Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who was in charge of Walter Reed from 2002 until 2004, when he became Army Surgeon General.

Kiley has said he had been aware of some issues, including an October service assessment citing problems with Walter Reed staffing, medical evaluations and patient handling. But Kiley told senators he was not aware of specific problems, including a backlog of maintenance orders and a lack of staff to conduct room inspections.

At the hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., read an e-mail from a soldier at Walter Reed who had lost both his legs. The soldier accused Kiley of knowing about the problems and doing nothing to fix them, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

"We as injured veterans and those family members who depend on medical facilities deserve nothing less than the resignation of Gen. Kiley," McCaskill read.

Dole said the investigation won't be limited to Walter Reed.

"This is going to be nationwide," he said. "The commission is going to have both (Department of Defense) facilities and VA facilities across the country."

But that figures to be a massive undertaking, Martin reports: For the Army alone, some 31,000 soldiers have been evacuated from the battlefield since the war on terror began.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent, said Congress might need to revisit an earlier decision to close Walter Reed in light of the increasing number of wounded troops from Iraq. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said lawmakers should examine their own oversight process.

Democrats have pledged to add money to the administration's request for war spending to take care of wounded active-duty troops and improve health care for retired veterans.

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