World War II veteran Bob Dole knows Walter Reed Hospital from the inside. Of course, he also knows his way around Washington bureaucracy, which is why President Bush asked the retired senate leader to chair his "Wounded Warriors" commission with President Clinton's health secretary Donna Shalala.
Dole talked about his new appointment, how wounded soldiers should be treated and his predictions on both sides of the aisle for 2008.
Stephanopoulos: So bring us inside the room when President Bush asked you to take on this job. What does he want you to do?
Dole: Well, he told me and Secretary Shalala that if we can find, you know, one soldier who's not being treated properly as far as medical care and on the transition at the V.A. or back to their unit or to the Guard or the Reserve, you know, he wants us to fix it.
Because I had my reservations about commissions. I've seen a lot of commissions come and go.
So has Secretary Shalala. And we didn't want to be a part of something where they come down and a little photo op and four months later you hand the report in, or five months, they say thank you, and that's the end of it.
Stephanopoulos: You're confident that President Bush, Secretary Gates aren't going to limit your work in any way?
Dole: No, that's a question I asked and the president said, flatly, to both me and Secretary Shalala -- we were in the Oval Office: if anything you need, you're going to get it.
Stephanopoulos: So you have free rein?
Dole: Yes. Pretty much. I mean, we're going to look at not just -- you know, Walter Reed's been sort of -- sort of beaten that horse long enough. There are 154 V.A. hospitals, a total of 1,400 V.A. facility if you count nursing homes and other facilities. There are 70 DOD hospitals, Department of Defense hospitals. We're going to look at all of it and report to the president June the 30th, or no later than the end of July.
Stephanopoulos: And that's the big concern, isn't it, that there might be even bigger problems way out in the country?
Dole: Oh, I mean, you should see some of the e-mails I'm getting, people wanting to be on the commission, wanting to help, wanting to volunteer, saying you ought to come look at this place or this place.
But I must say in fairness, we're getting some very positive e-mails from people who have been in hospitals, been at Walter Reed, for example.
I've been at Walter Reed -- I've been there -- I've had a prostatectomy, a part of my colon removed, other -- kidney stones, I mean, all that, since I've been around Washington, D.C., at Walter Reed.
Stephanopoulos: And you've gone and visited the wounded soldiers.
Dole: I've been there a lot. I was there for Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving dinner. And if you want to go out, you know, Ward 57, you can visit some very seriously injured or wounded soldiers.
Stephanopoulos: How do you think it was that these conditions weren't revealed sooner?
Dole: I can't believe it.
You know, I'm even surprised that -- I'm not critical, but I'm surprised that one of the veterans' groups, because they visit there all the time, the Legion, the VFW, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, you know, they send reps out there.
And I think most of it is sort of -- this Building 18 is sort of off-campus; it's across the street -- used to be a hotel.
And, you know, out of sight, out of mind, I guess.