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Army bolsters care for injured

Pentagon vows major changes

WASHINGTON -- Under criticism for poor treatment of injured soldiers, the Pentagon announced new measures yesterday to provide more health screenings, improve its record keeping system, and simplify an unwieldy disability claims system.

Testifying before a House panel, Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense, and Major General Gale Pollock, the Army's acting surgeon general, acknowledged a need for major changes in the outpatient treatment of wounded soldiers and veterans.

They expressed confidence in a new leadership team overseeing Walter Reed Army Medical Center following disclosures in February of shoddy treatment, and urged lawmakers to be patient.

"We believe we have the right people and the right mechanisms in place to make sure that all soldiers who are in a transitional status -- our warriors in transition -- are managed with care and compassion, and that they and their families are receiving the care they so justly deserve," Pollock told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.

The new initiatives follow a blistering report last week by an independent review group cochaired by John O. Marsh and Togo D. West, former Army secretaries, who found that money woes and Pentagon neglect were to blame for many of the problems at Walter Reed.

Concluding that Pentagon officials should have known about problems but chose to ignore them, the panel ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for a quick infusion of funds, a new "center of excellence" for brain injury cases, and an overhaul of the disability claims system, which critics say shortchanges injured soldiers.

Pollock and Dominguez said they had already begun implementing changes even as they awaited the findings of several investigations underway by presidential commissions, task forces, and congressional committees.