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Panel Recommends Relocating Top US Army Hospital

An independent panel determining which domestic American military bases should be closed down or relocated has completed its work, recommending that several facilities be spared from closure. But overall, the Base Realignment and Closure commission, also called BRAC, approved most of the Pentagon's recommended closures, including one famous army hospital where soldiers, lawmakers and presidents have long received care.

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center is one of the Army's premier hospitals, where soldiers have been treated since 1909. BRAC commission Chairman Anthony Princippi says, despite its age, the hospital continues to provide top-rate medical care.

"The kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm's way, deserve to come back to 21st Century medical care," said Anthony Princippi. "The care that's being provided at Walter Reed is extraordinary."

But when the Pentagon began reviewing ways to save money through closing down, consolidating or relocating military facilities, planners decided patients would be better served if the aging hospital were closed down, and a nearby hospital was renovated to replace it.

"Medicine has changed, as [has] so much that we have been discussing over the past day-and-a-half has changed in the military, and medicine is no exception," he said. "We need to ensure that, in light of the change in technology and drug therapy and outpatient care, and the whole spectrum, that we are keeping pace in the medical community, as well, and I think, this is a step in the right direction."

The hospital has long been the site of cutting edge medical advancements.

The hospital's namesake, Major Walter Reed, was an Army surgeon, who led a medical team in the late 1800s that proved the deadly disease, yellow fever, is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Over the years, doctors treating soldiers wounded in combat made advancements in performing amputations and developing rehabilitation therapies. Many high-profile American military and political leaders have spent time recuperating at the facility.

Walter Reed doctors also are responsible for caring for the president, including performing his annual medical check-up.

President Bush praised the hospital in a visit during his first term.

"This is a place of love and healing and great compassion," said George W. Bush. "The center has a great history and an important mission, and that is, you are serving those who serve our country."

President Bush is expected to approve the BRAC commission's ruling on closing Walter Reed and other military facilities.

If approved, doctors at Walter Reed won't have to move far to reach their new hospital. Bethesda Naval Hospital, less than seven kilometers away, will be renovated, expanded and renamed Walter Reed.