March 16, 2007 — -- A congressional investigation is under way to see if Walter Reed Army Medical Center is funding a well-appointed ward for lawmakers and other VIPs at the expense of soldiers, following disclosures of dilapidated facilities and excessive red tape at the nation's premier hospital for wounded troops.
John Tierney, D-Mass., chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee, has asked the Army to detail its funding for Walter Reed's Ward 72 -- well known for its antique furniture, carpeted floors, gleaming china, flat-screen TVs and hospital workers who escort members of Congress, Cabinet members, foreign dignitaries and their families to their medical appointments.
Former Sen. Strom Thurmond spent much of his final year in the posh ward, but the only troops permitted to stay there are Medal of Honor recipients.
"If there is money that's going for extraordinary amenities at the expense of people who are coming back disabled, certainly I'd be bothered by that," Tierney told ABC News. "My only concern is whether or not there is money that ought to be spent more wisely or more appropriately for people who are returning injured from the battlefield."
The special treatment in Ward 72, including added security and privacy, is a far cry from the treatment Brady Van Engelen said he received after he was shot in the head in Iraq in 2004.
"People want me to talk about the mice and the mold. They see that as the problem when it isn't the problem. The problem lies much much deeper than that," Van Engelen recently told ABC's David Kerley. "There's so much red tape. Soldiers are stuck there for so long, it does become a depressing groundhog day, if you will. … The regulations clearly state that I'm not fit for duty, but it took them six months to discover that."
Tierney told ABC News that if he found the funding "inappropriate" for the VIP ward, he would pursue a hearing specifically on the unit or seek some other corrective action.