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US Army Secretary Resigns Over Poor Conditions at Medical Facility

The secretary of the U.S. Army has resigned amid a scandal over the quality of health care for troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, President Bush wants a bipartisan commission to investigate ahead of Congressional hearings by opposition Democrats.

U.S. defense officials say Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked for the resignation of Army Secretary Francis Harvey, because he said he was disappointed that some Army officials were not taking the poor treatment of wounded soldiers seriously enough.

Harvey's forced resignation follows the ouster of the general who ran the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where an investigation by The Washington Post newspaper uncovered recuperating soldiers living in a run-down building, infested with mice, mold and cockroaches.

The scandal is especially embarrassing for President Bush, who regularly visits with wounded troops at Walter Reed. He used his weekly radio address to announce a bipartisan commission to investigate.

"Some of our troops at Walter Reed have experienced bureaucratic delays and living conditions that are less than they deserve," he said. "This is unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to our country, and it's not going to continue."

Mr. Bush says he will name the members of that group and their deadline for reporting back to him in the coming days. He says he wants the commission to evaluate the treatment of wounded from the time they leave the battlefield to their return to civilian life as veterans.

The commander-in-chief has seen his public approval ratings fall over the war in Iraq. Opinion polls say a majority of Americans oppose the president's sending more than 20,000 additional troops as part of a new strategy to secure Baghdad.

Most opposition Democrats also oppose that plan, but are reluctant to cut funding for the troop increase, concerned that might appear disloyal to soldiers serving in harms way. Democrats have responded swiftly to the scandal at Walter Reed.

Congressional Democrats have already scheduled hearings for next week, one at Walter Reed with some of the recovering soldiers who have struggled through Army bureaucracy.

In the Democratic radio address, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who is an independent, said soldiers with brain injuries have gone weeks without being able to get doctor appointments.

"There is not enough staff with the right skills to treat and care for the severely injured troops," he said. "And, rooms where some soldiers lived were found to be moldy and infested with rodents. Our nation has no greater moral and patriotic responsibility than to ensure that these brave Americans receive first class treatment, not only immediately after their injuries, but for their entire lives, through the Veterans Administration."

Lieberman says it is unacceptable that service members and veterans suffering from mental illness are not receiving proper care.