Madigan money tacked onto bill

WASHINGTON — Madigan Army Medical Center could receive a share of the $30 million in additional funding for outpatient care added to a spending bill the House is expected to consider later this week, Rep. Norm Dicks said Tuesday.

The funding is contained in a $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill that also includes a controversial timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

Dicks, D-Wash., a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he has received assurances Madigan would be among the medical facilities that would receive a boost in funding not only for outpatient care but to speed the processing of wounded soldiers so they can start receiving disability benefits and other aid.

“While the problems at Madigan may not be as serious as those confronted at Walter Reed, we nevertheless found that too many soldiers ... were waiting too long for proper care or for evaluation of their cases pending possible transfer to the VA medical system,” Dicks said in a statement.

Ten days ago, Dicks, along with Democratic Rep. Adam Smith and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, visited Madigan and Fort Lewis to discuss problems experienced by wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The congressmen met with top military officials and, in a private meeting, spoke directly with wounded soldiers about their experiences as outpatients and problems they have encountered as their cases work their way through the Army’s bureaucracy.

Army inspectors have opened a special office at Fort Lewis to investigate complaints by wounded soldiers being treated at Madigan or on “medical hold” as their status are evaluated.

In a report accompanying the House spending bill, the Appropriations Committee said the additional $30 million would be used for strengthening the recruitment and training of administrative and casework personnel and enhancing the programs aiding wounded soldiers.

“The committee further directs that these funds be allocated directly to military medical centers with significant medical-hold populations and large backlogs of patients who have yet to be evaluated for disability benefits,” the report said.

The report said the number of wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had overwhelmed the military medical system, leading to unacceptable delays in completing disability reviews.

“In many cases, the lack of management, shortages in caseworkers and specialists to help identify depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, inadequate medical hold facilities and even wheelchair access all have created additional obstacles for soldiers to overcome as they convalesce,” the report said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not started work on its version of the supplemental spending bill.

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