News Releases

Audio of Senator Murray questioning Acting VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Michael Kussman (discussion starts at 6:58)

(Washington, D.C.) - At a Senate hearing today, a top Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) official confirmed to U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) that the VA and Pentagon were aware of some bureaucratic problems at Walter Reed three years before they were publicly exposed.



Until now, the Bush Administration had claimed that it was unaware of problems at Walter Reed before they were exposed by the Washington Post in February 2007.



"The warning lights were flashing at Walter Reed years ago, but the Bush Administration chose to ignore the problem and our injured service members paid the price," Murray said after the hearing.



Yesterday, Salon.com reported that in 2004 the VA conducted a focus group of injured service members. The results of the focus group were included in a task force report. In the report, service members raised serious problems with the VA's outpatient bureaucracy.



"The focus group found that injured soldiers at Walter Reed were 'frustrated, confused, sometimes angry,' with the bureaucratic problems at Walter Reed," Murray told top VA officials including VA Secretary Jim Nicholson and Acting VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Michael Kussman.



"It's troubling that that long ago there was a report somewhere that these issues were festering over there. Was it not shared with anybody at the VA at the time?" Murray asked.



"Oh no, we knew about it," Undersecretary Kussman replied. "Again, most of that had to do with our questions related to - and again small number - but related to whether the VA was doing its mission."



Murray also established that officials at the Department of Defense (DoD) were aware of the problems raised by injured service members at Walter Reed in 2004.



"There were representative of DoD there on the committee. The report went to all the members of the committee," Kussman said.



Kussman said that the Task Force focused on the effectiveness of the VA's benefits counselors and social workers. He said that actions were taken to follow up on the report and that it helped lead to the VA creating an office of seamless transition.



Murray raised the issue at a hearing of the Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.



At the same hearing, Senator Murray got a commitment from VA Secretary Jim Nicholson that he will write to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and urge him to begin tracking battlefield exposures to explosions that could result in Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). The battlefield tracking idea, which was first suggested by a Pentagon medical board last year, would help the VA identify which service members may be at risk for TBI, allowing the VA to better screen and treat those service members.