July 7, 2005

Attack shows Wash. needs army hospital-official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington city officials argued
that bombings in London on Thursday underscore the need to
maintain a premier military hospital in the U.S. capital and
urged officials to keep open Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A similar or worse attack on Washington could prove
disastrous without Walter Reed to serve as a primary trauma
center for perhaps thousands of injured residents, as well as
for the president and members of Congress, officials told a
hearing of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"The idea of closing the only military hospital in the
capital of the United States when we continue to be such a
number one target struck me yesterday as an ill-advised policy.
Today it borders on criminally negligent," said Paul Strauss,
the District of Columbia's non-voting delegate to the U.S.

The city's emergency plan in case of a terror attack
includes an agreement with Walter Reed to use it as a staging
area for medical personnel and equipment. It has one of the
city's few helicopter pads.

It also has facilities to decontaminate people exposed to
chemical and biological agents and unique capabilities to treat
patients exposed to radiological attack, said Eleanor Holmes
Norton, the District's non-voting Congressional delegate.

Opened in 1909 and long viewed as the Army's premier
research hospital, Walter Reed is one of 837 U.S. military
bases and facilities that the Pentagon wants to close or
restructure in the first round of domestic base closings in a

Under the plan, Walter Reed would lose 5,630 jobs as its
primary in-patient operations are consolidated with those of
Bethesda Naval Medical Center in nearby Maryland. Some
facilities would have to be built to accommodate the move.

Other functions, such as out-patient care, would be moved
to a military hospital to be built at Fort Belvoir, Virginia,
where the Pentagon also wants to move thousands of Defense
Department workers from rented offices.

Norton said this would drastically increase transit times
for victims. Suburban roadways that are choked with traffic on
normal days would be gridlocked during a major emergency.

The base closings commission is holding hearings on the
Defense Department's closure recommendations, which would cut
about 26,000 jobs.

The commission has the power to add or subtract facilities
and must submit its list to President Bush by Sept. 8. He and
Congress can accept or reject the list in its entirety but can
make no changes.

Many communities fighting to save their bases have argued
that their facilities are important for homeland security,
ranging from providing National Guard air cover against suicide
plane attacks to staging areas for disaster recovery efforts.