01/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated 6 days ago

The Department of Defense and The Arrogance of Chu

In 1898, a military veteran wrote to the editor of the New York Times. The veteran was correct then and he is correct now.

" matters not how prominent a physician may be as a purely civil practitioner, unless he has been thrown in contact with troops in camp and garrison, he cannot comprehend all the details of military hygiene. The military surgeon in all the armies of the world, not excepting Spain, is now a specially trained official ..."

Published: September 6, 1898 Copyright © The New York Times

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, required creation of a Design Review Panel to insure that the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland was indeed the world class facility promised by the Department of Defense.

The drafters of the language envisioned a panel of top international experts including active military doctors, researchers, teachers and patients as well as the best international civilian expertise. This is an opportunity to be absolutely certain that we produce a truly world class military health facility. But then David Chu, an Undersecretary of Defense, just renames an existing BRAC Board and adds a few folks to be the "new" Design Review Panel. The panel includes no one responsible for the greatest single success of the Iraq War, the reduction of wounded deaths from 25% to 15%. In real lives, this major success means well over 3,000 of our wounded soldiers did not become Killed In Action (KIA).


David Chu is actually hindering the Department of Defense's own vision restated in his letter of October 30, 2008.

"...We are committed to creating a world-class medical center at Bethesda for our military members and their families..."

David Chu, the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, has struck once again. He is the individual really responsible for the disastrous conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center uncovered by the Washington Post in 2007. He is remembered because he refused to provide sufficient funds for maintenance of the Hospital which resulted in the number of maintenance personnel decreasing from 360 in 2001 to 60 in 2007. Chu is ignoring both the will of Congress and the nation's military for short-term ideological gain.

Military medicine encounters far different challenges in far different environments than does typical US civilian medicine. In no way should civilians be kept at bay nor should military/civilian partnerships be discouraged; indeed, both could well become better and stronger through cooperation. To operate effectively and to remain financially responsible, we must explore all avenues of medical and military excellence.

Secretary Gates, please halt the current rush to failure. Immediately correct David Chu's Design Review Panel. Make the panel what it was truly envisioned to be, an international panel of military and civilian experts, users and patients. We must seek to sustain the force in the most cost effective yet efficient manner. That takes pragmatism, not ideology.