August 25, 2005

US base panel votes to close Walter Reed hospital

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A military base review panel voted
on Thursday to close the historic Walter Reed Army Medical
Center campus in Washington, D.C., and combine its operations
with the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland.

The closure of the facility, which has treated thousands of
patients since the Iraq war began, will affect 5,630 jobs. Many
of the jobs will move to Bethesda and a new community hospital
at Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia.

The plan will cost $989 million, according to Defense
Department estimates, including the cost of building a 340-bed
hospital on the suburban Bethesda campus.

Walter Reed was established in 1909 and has provided
medical care for wounded U.S. soldiers since World War I. It
has treated 4,350 patients from Iraq since the war began,
including 1,214 battle casualties. The facility has also
treated U.S. presidents and members of Congress.

District of Columbia officials had said Walter Reed already
provides state-of-the-art medical care and did not need to be
replicated 10 miles away in Bethesda.

Some local politicians acknowledged, however, that the
113-acre campus in northwest Washington would be attractive for
development of homes that would boost tax revenues by millions
of dollars.

Commission members said the proposal to combine the Army
and Navy medical centers into the Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center in Bethesda was an opportunity to upgrade the
care provided to service members with new facilities.

However, they said costs for the move would likely be
higher than Pentagon estimates.

"Whatever it costs, we need to incur that cost to provide
that world-class care to an extraordinary group of men and
women in harm's way," said commission chairman Anthony
Principi, a former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, during the
meeting to vote on the closure.